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  • Inspirational quotes can bite me

    10 comments Published Feb 6, 11 AM
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    By Shana Sturtz

    Lately, I have been trying to embrace my negativity. Having been told my entire life to “smile more” and “be positive,” I think it’s really time to see the glass half empty, without reservations. And, because we are on the topic of negativity, I must share my distaste for inspirational quotes and positive self-affirmations.

    I get it. There are some amazingly wise people who have said some amazingly profound things. However, three words into an inspirational quote I am either asleep or wanting to curl up in a ball and die. I also get the self-affirmation thing. Who wouldn’t feel better reading a quote about being a “powerful woman” taped to their mirror as they start the day? However, as much as I’ve been encouraged to try, these things do not improve my attitude, and in fact make me surlier by the minute. And for you doubters, I have tried. By the time I was 17, I had a therapist and had gone through a Eugene, Oregon-style self-help seminar that utilized the miracle of self-affirmations. That same seminar encouraged a breathing technique that was supposed to result in hallucinations I pretended to have. I felt totally ripped off.

    My mother is the worst offender of the inspirational quote, so this one’s going to hit home, literally. She has had more trauma in her life than almost anyone I know, and has come away still with an accepting and loving attitude. Accepting of people; loving of just about everything. And so therefore, my curse has been to turn out just the opposite.  My dad generally thinks the world is against him, but tries to interject his own inspirational quotes in hopes of alleviating what he sees as my misery for not embracing positivity.

    I was once, on a vulnerable day, deeply affected by an inspirational quote after a sweaty yoga practice. I repeated the quote on numerous occasions to my students.  I cringe at the thought of it, but yoga students really eat that stuff up.  It was a quote about the power of forgiveness, which rung particularly true to me, considering I can hold a mean grudge. I have resolved most of my adult grudges, but there are still a few from my youth I carry like a backpack full of sand.

    In giving this plenty of thought, I am going with the theory that my negativity comes from extreme sensitivity. Let’s face it; you emotionally get the shit kicked out of you if you expose how sensitive you are. Sensitivity is about as valued as negativity. Choose either one and guaranteed you won’t be popular, but at least with negativity you are not crying all the time.

    In my liberal upbringing, my parents told me I was great (even when I was mediocre), that I was beautiful (even though I was average).  When a particular brand of nasty kids harassed me in high school ­­­– telling me otherwise – I felt like a stray cat getting kicked in the stomach, completely baffled as to why I was the target of their rage.

    Around sophomore year in high school, I distinctly remember wearing a beauty of a Liz Claiborne dress (it was the ’80s), feeling confident and happy. Upon arrival, I was told by a cute and popular shithead-of-a-boy that I looked like a fat pig. If you are sensitive, you may be feeling emotional right now, comparing this to some experience you have had. If you are negative, you are thinking high school humiliation stories abound, they are about as common and lackluster as high school eating disorders.

    I was, in fact, consistently degraded in high school, but never expressed this as a problem to anyone. There were kids murdering each other in the Favelas of Brazil, so who was I to complain? There were kids who couldn’t afford money for lunch, so I was ashamed to trouble anyone with my middle-class problems. Negativity and shame have often gone unexpressed because of my stupid sensitive awareness and guilt that many people have it so much worse.

    Sensitive people are encouraged to mask it, and expressing negativity is possibly the most unpopular emotion in the yoga world. Cynicism, sarcasm and dark humor are completely iffy. My unexpressed negativity has at times made me petulant and misunderstood. I have trouble conforming or pretending.

    So, I am sorry to you believers scouring your self-help books for positive affirmations and encouraging quotes; they don’t do it for me. I guess it took moving to Mexico, where no one is directly trying to shove positivity down my throat, to realize that quotes and affirmations would never be my therapy – but that embracing the humor in my negativity would be.

    About Shana Sturtz

    Shana Sturtz is a certified yoga teacher and survivor of the exploding Portland, Oregon yoga scene. She currently lives in Guadalajara, Mexico with her husband, Tom. She continues to teach yoga and tutors in English. She has practiced yoga for 15 years, and yes, she is older than most yoga teachers. She is currently looking for more ways to occupy her time in this new land where she hasn’t quite grasped the language, and she is too scared to drive. Coming from Portland, you only learn to ride a bike. While no longer living in Portland (where a new yoga studio opens every hour) she is forced to practice her yoga within the comforts of her home, often with her cat looking on admiringly.