“We are all allowed to fall apart sometimes, so we can find ourselves all over again.”
Dr. Jaime Zuckerman, Clinical Psychologist, describes toxic positivity as, “the assumption, either by oneself or others, that despite a person’s emotional pain or difficult situation, they should only have a positive mindset and energy.” When you pretend your emotional pain does not exist, it signals the brain that the emotion is bad. Your body responds to the danger by harming you during your most vulnerable state. Science shows that not allowing your emotions can lead to a myriad of psychological difficulties including disrupted sleep, increased substance abuse, risk of an acute stress response, anxiety, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder.
The reasons for not being okay can be many. Reasons clearly seen and felt are burnout, grief, loss, job dissatisfaction, or family issues. It comes from break ups, starting over, moving on, saying no, or being alone. However, more unclear reasons about who you are and your direction in life can be equally crippling. Too often people choke on their emotions before they will allow others to feel or see them to avoid being judged and made to feel weak-minded. No one likes to “not be okay”. In fact, improving, implementing, and working towards positive change to get better is a normal human tendency. However, toxic positivity along with pretending to be okay will impede your progress even when it comes from well-meaning people.
My friend’s husband was diagnosed with early on-set dementia. He could no longer work leaving her solely responsible to care for him and family with no job. She was depressed and scared about the uncertainty of her family’s future. Those close to her would say, “You can handle it. You always do”. That was not how she felt, and she needed an understanding shoulder to cry on. They did not listen, and she was hurt by their insensitivity.
Are your cries being heard and allowed?
Are you hearing and allowing the cries from your friends and family?
When you use toxic positivity on others, are you really wanting to make yourself feel better in an uncomfortable situation? For example, when you interrupt someone’s emotional release by telling them not cry, you are really saying, “I need you to stop crying so that I can feel better in this moment.”
Do not interrupt anyone when crying or emotional. It brings about secondary emotions of guilt, shame, and embarrassment. You are saying it is not okay when it is okay. My friend feeling sad about her husband’s condition is normal. Crying after a fight with someone you love is normal. Feeling anxious and scared about the uncertainty of your future is normal. It is essential for you and others to feel these things as they come up. Avoiding your feelings will leave you overwhelmed and believing you cannot cope especially within the workplace. Accept all feelings, thoughts, or sensations, and sit with them and yourself until they pass. No emotion is permanent. Anger and sadness, just like happiness and joy, come and go. The only way to get to the other side is to journey through the pain versus avoiding it.
Avoid phrases like:
• Be positive it will be over soon!
• It could be worse.
• Stop worrying! All is well.
• What’s there to cry about? It will be fine.
• You have been given much. Be thankful.
• Get over it!
Use phrases like the below affirming the other person’s feelings and your
• You have every right to feel how you feel.
• I understand your feelings and you are in a safe space with me.
• You should feel whatever emotions you want to feel.
• Take your time. I am here and support you.
With acknowledged feelings, you can then take a breath, feel your emotions, and begin the healing process overcoming the challenges imposed on your life. It is okay to be selfish when working on yourself and situations encircling you. It is okay to change your perspective knowing that the hardships and challenges of today will make you more conscious, aware, and stronger tomorrow even when you believe the situation could not be worse.
What is not okay is staying in a situation or relationship where you are not happy, valued, or appreciated. It is not okay to limit the discovery of the good in this world for you. Feel and understand your pain knowing that a time must come for you to stand up and fight. My friend fought back and has re-established her family’s future while changing minds and laws about early onset dementia. Life goes on!
“Telling someone not to worry advocates for the suppression of their feelings, rather than discussing why the feelings are present within itself.”-Anju Felix
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