Ever been having a really tough day and turned to someone for comfort, just to leave the conversation feeling worse or guilty about feeling bad in the first place?
Maybe you’ve experienced a hardship or loss just to be told “everything happens for a reason” or “look on the bright side.”
Maybe you’ve opened up about feelings of sadness and were told to “just stay positive.”
Or maybe you’ve expressed that you are frustrated and upset, and were met with “good vibes only.”
These mantras have somehow become the auto-reply of so many well-intentioned friends and family members. However, although they are meant to help us, they often leave us feeling even worse. This is the trick of the ‘positive vibes’ trend, often referred to as toxic positivity or the belief that no matter how difficult a situation is, that people should maintain a positive mindset. It is this excessive, overgeneralized application of happiness that leaves us feeling less happy and supported.
Feel good statements tend to minimize what someone is going through, invalidate the tough emotions that are coming up, and shut the conversation down. They can send the message that, if you aren’t finding a way to feel happy then you are doing something wrong, or that if you come to me with anything less than happiness, I won’t be there to listen.
But wait, isn’t being positive a good thing? Well, yes and no. There is huge power in positive thinking and many studies show it can impact everything from physical healing to job interview performance. However, the reality is that life isn’t always positive. We will all experience pain and difficulty, and the emotions that come up from these experiences need to be dealt with. It’s okay to feel bad sometimes.
So, how can we change things? First, get ready to feel a little uncomfortable. We offer those feel-good platitudes partly to protect ourselves from the uncomfortable feelings of the other person but sitting with them in that feeling can be incredibly helpful. Second, don’t think that you need to fix anything. Just listen to what the other person is going through and validate what they are experiencing. Negative emotions are a normal part of the human experience, and by letting them be aired freely we actually open ourselves and others up to greater happiness down the road.