I shouldn’t have to pretend that everything’s okay when it isn’t.
The last few years have been tough. Okay… that’s a bit of an understatement. I’ve been hit with a lot and it just keeps coming. Well meaning people in my life often don’t know what to say or how to respond. Some common phrases I hear after I share an update with them is “well, it could be worse” or “try to stay positive” or “everything will be fine” or “look on the bright side”.
Another common phrase that many people use in situations like this is, “well at least you still have your health”. It’s funny that I haven’t heard this one directed at me or my family now for a few years.
What they are somewhat desperately trying to say is that I should be grateful for what I still have. I shouldn’t dwell on what I have lost.
No one meant to hurt me with these comments. They were trying to make me feel better. And of course, I am grateful for what I do have. But that doesn’t mean the situations still don’t suck.
I have nothing against trying to focus on the good and live a life filled with positivity. There’s nothing inherently wrong with positivity. But positivity can also become harmful when it’s insincere, forceful, or delegitimizes real feelings of anxiety, fear, sadness, or hardship.
Toxic positivity is the assumption, either by one’s self or others, that despite a person’s emotional pain or difficult situation, they should only have a positive mindset.
The pressure to appear ‘okay’ invalidates the range of emotions we all experience. Negative emotions are seen as bad or off putting and need to be immediately stifled; minimizing authentic human emotional experiences.
A (now former) friend of mine said something recently that I found quite disappointing. They told me “if I ask you how you’re doing, just say “good”. I don’t want to hear about the rest.” Sadly this type of response to my updates and stories isn’t uncommon. I often sense people cringe when they force out the question “How are you doing?”
I pride myself in being real, raw and vulnerable - especially publicly on my blog and on social media, which is rare. Yet I’m continually accused of being “too honest”. It’s mind blowing to me that there even IS such a thing. Where the hell is the magical line of sharing just enough but not “too much”. Of being honest, yet not divulging the ENTIRE truth. Of spinning the details of the story so that it comes across as being pleasant, positive and acceptable to the listener or reader - rather than being real which may make the listener or reader uncomfortable.
I check in regularly with my best friends to see if I’m being “too” negative. I don’t want to be known as a “Negative Nancy” or in my case a “Downer Dale”. I know full well my life is A LOT to handle. The storms are fierce and often stacked up on top of each other. As one rager dissipates, another one is brewing. I know many conversations consist of me venting and complaining; of me being “too honest”. I’m aware of this. And trust me, I wish it was different. Do you really think I enjoy weathering storm after storm after storm?
Just today I was talking (aka: venting) with Madison’s physiotherapist about the newest storm that’s brewing and she missed the point. She cut me off in an attempt to encourage me and said “Dale, you are so resilient and have gotten yourself and your family through so many storms before, you’re going to make it through this one too!”
I started crying and said, “You’re missing the point!! Of course I know I’m going to make it through - I don’t have any other choice! But why the hell do I have to weather another storm in the first place? When is enough, enough?!?”
I want a friend to text me one morning and ask me how I’m doing, and I want to reply honestly with a huge “I’m great!!!” and then go on to elaborate on the details. I want to feel alive. I want to find infinite happiness. I want to go through a day where I can’t stop smiling.
Now while there is certainly something to be said for having a sunny disposition on life, it’s also possible to overdose on the sickeningly sweet nectar of platitudes such as “everything is awesome!” or “living the dream, things couldn’t be better!”
I think many of us have been feeling the effects of toxic positivity increase in the last year as we have all been navigating new feelings and emotions due to the ever changing climate of the world. We’re being fed toxic catch phrases from the media and our leaders and told that our feelings and emotions need to come second to “the greater good”. We are literally being told that it is selfish to be concerned about our own well being because “we’re all in this together”.
The process of toxic positivity results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.
Just like anything done in excess, when positivity is used to cover up or silence the human experience, it becomes toxic. By disallowing the existence of certain feelings, we fall into a state of denial and repressed emotions. The truth is, humans are flawed. We get jealous, angry, resentful, and greedy. Sometimes life can just flat out suck. By pretending that “everything is okay,” we deny the validity of a genuine human experience.
It’s okay to not be okay. Sometimes a lemon is just a lemon. Why are we always forcing people to make lemonade out of lemons? Sometimes it’s just a lemon.