“When you can’t look on the bright side, I will sit with you in the dark.” ~Unknown
It’s hard and uncomfortable to sit with pain, our own or someone else’s.
We don’t like to see people hurting, especially people we love, because we instinctively want to make them feel better, and we feel powerless if we think we can’t.
Feel like you have to Do something. You have to communicate something. We have to somehow pull them out of the darkness—and we often try to do this by dousing them with light.
We do this to ourselves as well, and it’s painfully invalidating.
“Look on the bright side!” we might say, forgetting it’s possible to feel gratitude and sorrow at the same time. You can have perspective while simultaneously feeling pain.
“Don’t be so negative!” we might say. As if it’s bad to express or even feel heavier emotions—like anger, sadness, fear, disappointment, frustration, and annoyance.
This is the biggest trap: we believe that toxic positivity is creating a better tomorrow. As if a “positive” mind always leads to a “positive” life.
But I’ve found that the dichotomy of “positive” and “negative” vastly oversimplifies the messiness of being human. This compels us not to acknowledge our complexity but to give ourselves space to process them.
That’s what gives us hope—not pretending that All we see is light but sitting in the darkness until we’re ready to find it.
These are 10 things that I think we should stop saying to each other and ourselves. Here’s how to validate and encourage healthy optimism.
1. Negative Thinking: Keep your sanity and everything will turn out fine.
Reality: Nothing is guaranteed, regardless of your mindset, and it’s okay to have fears and worries about all the things you can’t control. But odds are you’ll feel better if you balance your totally understandable thoughts about everything that could go wrong with thoughts about everything that could go right. And when you feel better, you’ll be better able to see opportunities where before you may have only seen obstacles.
2. Toxic positivity: You’ll be fine.
Reality: If you define “fine” as not dead, then odds are you Will be. If you’re hoping for more than just “fine”—if you’re ready to stop merely surviving and start thriving in life—it might take a while.
It’s okay to grieve for all the time you’ve been merely “fine,” and it’s okay to worry about years more of the same. If you let yourself feel those feelings, you’ll be better able to do the things that will help you heal so you can finally leave survival mode and get a lot more out of life.
3. Toxic Positivity – Stop worrying, and just trust the universe.
Reality: Trusting the universe won’t change that you might get hurt in life, and it’s normal to worry about just how badly that might be.
Try to believe in yourself instead of depending on someone else. Trust that you’re strong enough to handle whatever is coming, and even if it’s not something you would have chosen, you can learn and grow from it and find a way to make the best of it.
4. The Toxic Positivity: Everything will change if you shift your mindset.
Realism: We all have limited power. Simply changing our attitudes will not change our situation. And changing your attitude isn’t like flipping a light switch. It can take time to address the limiting beliefs under your thoughts and feelings—beliefs likely adopted through highly traumatic experiences.
Be gentle and patient with yourself as you work toward shifting your internal state, and know that as you begin to see things differently, you’ll be able to slowly make external changes.
5. Toxic Positivity – Focus on your blessings; others have worse.
Reality: You’re likely fortunate in many ways, and it’s true that there are people out there with devastating challenges you don’t have. But that doesn’t mean your own struggles and feelings aren’t valid.
Minimizing your pain won’t make it go away. Accept your feelings of joy and stress, rather than blaming the former. When you accept your feelings, they’ll loosen their grip on you—so let them in before trying to let them go.
6. Toxic Positivity: Life’s too short to feel bad all the time.
Reality: If you feel bad all or most of the time, it’s not because you’ve forgotten the average lifespan. It’s because you’re struggling with real challenges and you need help. You can’t change how you feel through sheer will. You don’t need an invalidating cliché, you need support. Everything feels more manageable when you remember you’re not alone.
7. Toxic positivity – You’re too busy to feel down.
Reality: It might be true that you have a lot working in your favor, externally, at least, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t struggle emotionally. Most of our struggles have more to do with what’s going on internally, so even people who appear to “have it all” can hurt tremendously.
Focus on why you’re struggling instead of whether you should be. Getting to the root of your pain won’t ensure you never feel down again, but it will help you heal so that you can feel better more often than not.
8. Toxic positivity: Think happy thoughts and you’ll live a happy life.
Realism: You can’t control your thoughts. These thoughts are not our choice. And trying to strong-arm your brain into submission won’t guarantee you feel happy all the time. A depressed brain tends to produce more negative thoughts and fuel more depression, which can lead to an endless cycle.
Do not try to control what is going on inside of you. Instead, seek help from professionals to address the root cause of your depression. This could be related to trauma or learning helplessness. The key to happier living is healing.
9. Positive toxicity: All things are for your highest good.
Reality: Some things that happen will never seem positive, no matter how hard you try to spin them, and that’s okay.
You might find it helps you see things differently. But you don’t need to believe that traumas and tragedies were handed to you by some cosmic force solely for your benefit. You just need to find a reason to go on based on what’s meaningful and empowering to you personally.
10. Toxic positivity: Things aren’t as bad as they seem.
Reality: Your circumstances may appear manageable to someone else, but they might be overwhelming and impossible for you. It’s okay to feel devastated, scared, overwhelmed, or whatever else you feel. It’s okay to fall apart even if someone else thinks you’re overreacting.
Once you allow yourself to feel what you need to feel you may slowly to start to shift your perspective on what you’re going through. Take all the time you need to get there, knowing you won’t feel this way forever.
And now a caveat: I’m not saying that positivity is always bad, swinging the pendulum from one black-and-white perspective to another. I’m suggesting that no emotions are bad, and that it isn’t negative to embrace them, for as long as we need to.
We don’t have to rush our healing. We don’t have to put a timeline on grieving. We don’t have to force a smile or pretend we’re okay and write that we’re #blessed when we feel we’re not.
It’s okay to believe life sucks sometimes—because it absolutely does. You can find beauty in it. It’s not either/or, it’s both.
The only way to truly appreciate beauty and its imperfections is to allow ourselves the discomfort. Otherwise, we’ll just be numb, walking around with our humanity dammed behind an emotional firewall because we’re afraid to let it out. We fear it will consume us, or others may judge us if they witness the raw emotions.
Others might. But I’d rather be judged for owning my darkness and my damage than subconsciously shame myself by pushing them down.
And I’d rather feel better after letting myself hurt than prolong my pain by pretending I’m fine when I’m not.
So here’s my invitation to you: Feel the hurt and do nothing. Listen to the pain and do nothing. Don’t try to fix it, soften it, solve it, resolve it, or otherwise make it go away. Don’t force yourself to appreciate it or try to reframe until you first let yourself fully feel it.
Feeling is the key to healing. True healing is more than fake positivity.
About Lori Deschene
Tiny Buddha is founded by Lori Deschene. She’s also the author of Tiny Buddha’s Gratitude Journal, Tiny Buddha’s Worry Journal, and Tiny Buddha’s Inner Strength Journal and co-founder of Recreate Your Life Story, an online course that helps you let go of the past and live a life you love. For daily wisdom, join the Tiny Buddha list here. You can also follow Tiny Buddha on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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