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Imposter Syndrome, Confidence Culture, and Other Positive BS: Part 2

Join Molly and Angela in Part 2 of Imposter Syndrome, Confidence Culture, and Other Positive BS as they focus on the “Father of Positive Psychology,” Martin Seligman’s, personal statements about the substance of this practice, and the help versus the harm that it causes. This one’s intense, y’all, so buckle up, buttercup, you’re in for a full on neurospicy ride! 

Why aren’t values part of the conversation?

Seligman states that “Positive Psychology is not an exercise in changing values.” And this gets us all riled up! Molly says, “it doesn’t make sense! Anytime you learn a new tool or learn a new skill, your values will shift” (9:08). Angela adds, “Those values that are at the top of the food chain, the one percenters, right, those values are not being questioned by positive psychology, because it’s not an exercise in changing values” (10:45). As they continue the conversation, they touch upon Seligman’s privileged ideals that Positive Psychology were built upon—you know, it’s all about the “good life” and suffering and oppression doesn’t exist. He really says that and we call bullshit!

Gratitude: Weapon of Oppression or Tool of Empowerment?

Gratitude is wonderful–or at least it can be. As Angela says, it works wonders “on engaging the parasympathetic nervous system [to help] us complete the stress response cycle.” (12:22) That being said–gratitude can be weaponized against those who are oppressed in many ways. 

Molly gives us a view into its weaponization in the corporate world. In a corporation that values specific people over others, you’ll see a disproportionate implementation of gratitude and positive reinforcement. Yes–”some people will be getting positive reinforcement because of positive psychology, but it’s only going to be the people perceived as worthy.”

The people found to be “unworthy” (those oppressed and suffering) will not experience this same positive work environment. “And that’s where that harm comes in. So yes, they’ve implemented gratitude. Yes, they’ve implemented something positive, but only with a select few of their employees”—those employees with the same underlying values that comes from the same privilege (14:01).

Critical thinking is not an option 

Right off the bat, Angela addresses the elephant in the room. This is a hot topic and some people will be offended. She says, “We don’t need to go on the not me train. A lot of people who are invested in positive psychology do not have an intersectional perspective.And because of that, positive psychology can be harmful” (3:19). Problem stated. Later, this problem is addressed and solutions are given for those who are invested—because we agree that there are some great tools that can and should be used to support ourselves and our clients. Molly explains, “you need to assess” when your client has “come back three weeks in a row, and they haven’t done the thing that [you] asked them to do. It is your job as the coach to say, ‘why are they avoiding this?’” (19:53).  

There are so many great moments in here that we struggled to write the show notes because we just couldn’t wrap it all up here. We aren’t just saying this because we want you to listen, promise! But this is one you gotta listen to in order to get the full effect of this important conversation.