Sharing – Don’t insist on being positive – allowing negative emotions has much to teach us
This is both a book review and a discussion about a topic I’ve covered here before, Toxic Positivity. I think this is a good description of the problem:
“Goodman’s new book, Toxic Positivity, expands on this thinking, critiquing a culture – particularly prevalent in the US and the west more broadly – that has programmed us to believe that optimism is always best. She traces its roots in the US to 19th-century religion, but it has been especially ascendant since the 1970s, when scientists identified happiness as the ultimate life goal and started rigorously researching how to achieve it. More recently, the wellness movement – religion for an agnostic generation – has seen fitness instructors and yogis preach about gratitude in between burpees and downward dogs. We all practise it in some way. When comforting a friend, we turn into dogged silver-lining hunters. And we lock our own difficult thoughts inside tiny boxes in a corner of our brains because they’re uncomfortable to deal with and we believe that being relentlessly upbeat is the only way forward. Being positive, says Goodman, has become “a goal and an obligation”.”
The article goes on to discuss the various ways those emotions we are trying to avoid by always being positive are actually good for us. How sitting with and processing those emotions help us learn and grow.
Of course, the one thing I will say about that is this. Be prepared to do that work alone, or very nearly alone. The world is full of people who are not comfortable with their pain, sadness, grief, etc., and refuse to do anything but “be grateful.” They also have zero tolerance for other people “bringing them down” with their own emotions.
These people are not capable of being a support to anyone else. The refusal to acknowledge the entirety of human emotion makes them utterly incapable of sitting with someone in their pain. Sadly, as these ideas have gained popularity, they have also limited our support networks. They have created a shortage of people who will sit with us.
This needs to change.