17 Nov The Dark Side of Positivity
We are often told to ‘think positive’ and of course there’s nothing wrong with this, if there is balance. However, our societal focus on happiness and positive thinking can have a dark side. When we experience painful events; losses, illnesses, rejection, we feel pain; sadness, grief, fear, emptiness, and this is a completely natural part of life and our experience of it. In our society, there is often little time for ‘just being’, for really talking and being heard, and as a result, we so often shut people down (with the best intentions – to cheer them up!), by suggesting they think positively and look on the bright side. But this doesn’t make the painful emotions go away, it just sends them further under ground, with an additional layer of shame because when we are in the depths of pain, we are often unable to ‘just think positively’. Inadvertently, we can leave people feeling that they are ‘wrong’ for not being able to think positively and feel better, and to feel isolated and alone in their pain.
Without being ‘allowed’, having space to be truly felt, especially with another who is safe and listening instead of trying to fix, emotions don’t change, they compound, and they often come to the surface later as free floating anxiety or depression, when our avoidance mechanisms become overwhelmed.
So there needs for balance. We need to be brave enough to sit with others in pain, hold the space for them so that they can feel whatever they need to feel. Only then, down the track, might positive thinking be something that is possible and makes sense. We need to teach our children that their emotions are normal and not to be feared, and help them learn how to express and manage them, and to comfort themselves. This, along with positive thinking will foster resilience. And we need to be able to do this for ourselves too; to allow ourselves to feel, to make space for this with compassion, instead of berating ourselves for not being able to ‘just get on with it’. Of course, many of us might need help and support in learning how to do this, having learned through early experience to push emotion away and soldier on. And some emotions, especially when compounded over many years, can feel too overwhelming to face alone, and this is when we might need to reach out for help.
For an interesting summary on the dark side of positivity, take a look at this article;