Whether it be our own or the grief of another, it is difficult and unpleasant to sit with suffering.
We don’t enjoy it when other people are in pain, especially when it’s someone we care about, because we have an innate desire to make them feel good, and if we believe we can’t, it makes us feel helpless and helpless people are the worst kind of people to be around.
It seems as though we have no choice but to take action. We are obligated to make a statement. We have to find a way to drag them out of the shadows, and one method that we frequently employ is to bombard them with light in an effort to achieve this goal. This is something that we also do to ourselves, and it is an excruciatingly painful way to feel invalidated.
When we forget that it’s possible to experience both appreciation and sorrow at the same time, we might say things like “Look on the bright side!” Having both a viewpoint and the agony at the same time.
We might tell them, “Don’t be so pessimistic!” As if it were wrong to express or even experience heavier emotions like anger, grief, fear, disappointment, irritation, and impatience. As if it were bad to feel them.
And the biggest trap of all is that we manage to persuade ourselves that all of this toxic positivism is sculpting a better future for us. As if having a “positive” mindset will automatically result in living a “positive” life.
Reducing the complexity of being human to a simple dichotomy like “positive” and “negative” does not do it justice. And because of this, we feel compelled to simplify our multifaceted emotions rather than granting ourselves the opportunity and space to work through them.
That we are willing to remain in the darkness until we are ready to find the light rather than assuming that all we see is light is what gives us hope.
The following is a list of ten things that I feel we ought to stop saying to one another and to ourselves, as well as suggestions on how we might instead offer validation and foster healthy optimism.
1. Things we say: Just keep an optimistic attitude, and everything will work out for the best.
The reality is that nothing is certain, regardless of your frame of mind, and it is acceptable to have anxieties and worry about the things in your life that you cannot control. Ideas about everything that could go wrong are quite natural, but it’s likely that you’ll feel better if you balance those thoughts with thoughts about everything that could go right. And when you start to feel better, you’ll be in a better position to recognize opportunities when before you might have only seen challenges.
2. Things we say: Harmful expressions of optimism such as “You’ll be fine.”
The harsh truth is that if you consider being “fine” to be “not dead,” then the likelihood is that you will pass away sooner or later. If you’re looking for something more than just “fine”—if you’re ready to quit merely existing and start thriving in life—be prepared for the process to take some time.
It is acceptable to feel sorrow for the years during which you were merely “fine,” and it is also acceptable to feel anxiety over the years to come, provided that you do it in moderation. If you allow yourself to feel those feelings, you will be better able to do the things that will help you heal. This will allow you to eventually exit the “survival mode” and begin to enjoy life to a far greater extent.
3. Things we say: Give up your anxiety and have faith in the cosmos.
The reality is that putting your faith in the cosmos won’t prevent you from experiencing pain in your life, and it’s perfectly natural to be concerned about the severity of that pain.
Try to trust in yourself rather than putting your faith in anything or someone else. Have faith that you are resilient enough to handle anything comes your way and know that even if it isn’t something you would have chosen, you can learn and grow from it and figure out a way to make the most of the situation.
4. Things we say: If you alter your outlook, everything else around you will also shift.
The harsh truth is that none of us possesses so much power that altering our mindset can cause a change in the external world around us. Moreover, adjusting your frame of mind is not as simple as turning a switch. It may take some time to address the limiting beliefs that are the source of your thoughts and feelings; these beliefs were probably formed as a result of really painful experiences.
Be kind and patient with yourself as you work toward transforming your internal state, and keep in mind that when you start to perceive things differently, you’ll be able to progressively make adjustments to the things going on around you as well.
5. Things we say: Recognize how fortunate you are and acknowledge that other people have it far worse.
You are likely lucky in many ways, and it is true that there are people in the world who are dealing with debilitating obstacles that you do not have. However, you do not have these problems. But this does not in any way diminish the significance of your personal challenges or sentiments.
Minimizing your discomfort won’t make it go away. Instead of berating yourself for feeling anxious, let yourself feel both thankful and stressed at the same time. You’ll find that your emotions have less of a hold on you if you learn to acknowledge and accept them; therefore, it’s important to first give yourself permission to feel them fully before attempting to release them.
6. Things we say: Life is too short to constantly feel horrible about yourself.
If you are unhappy all of the time or most of the time, it is not because you have lost track of the typical amount of time a person lives. It’s because you’re having trouble dealing with real problems, and you need some assistance. Willpower alone won’t be enough to alter how you currently feel. You don’t need an old saying that discredits you; what you need is support. When you realize that you aren’t the only one, suddenly everything seems more doable.
7. Things we say: You have much too much going for you to be feeling the way you are.
It’s possible that you do have a lot going for you, at least from the outside looking in, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have any emotional ups and downs. People who seem to “have it all” can yet be suffering through a lot of pain, because the majority of our problems stem from things that are going on the inside of us.
Instead of focusing on whether or not you should be having difficulty, consider the reasons behind it. Getting to the bottom of what’s causing your suffering won’t guarantee that you’ll never feel low again, but it will help you recover so that you can feel better most of the time.
8. Things we say: If you think pleasant ideas, you will live a happy life.
The reality is that no one is fully in command of their own ideas. They come about regardless of our deliberate actions. And even if you succeed in bullying your brain into submission, it won’t ensure that you’ll feel happy all the time. However, a sad mind has a tendency to generate more defeatist beliefs, which in turn fuels more gloomy feelings; this can become a vicious cycle.
Get help to figure out what’s causing your depression rather than focusing on attempting to gain control of your thoughts (possibly linked to trauma or learned helplessness). The path to a happier existence is one that leads to healing.
9. Things we say: The belief that everything that takes place in your life is for the best.
The reality is that some things that occur will never appear positive, no matter how hard you try to spin them, and it’s okay for that to be the case.
You might be able to reframe an unpleasant experience by thinking about how it might have happened for you rather than to you if you do this. You don’t have to accept the premise that calamities and misfortunes are gifts from a higher power intended purely for your growth and development. You simply need to discover a cause to continue based on something that is relevant and empowering to you on an individual level.
10. Things we say: Things aren’t as horrible as they seem. Things aren’t as bad as they seem.
To someone else, the challenges you are facing may appear to be easily surmountable, but to you, they may feel insurmountable and intolerable. It is acceptable for you to feel heartbroken, terrified, overwhelmed, or any other emotion that you experience. It is acceptable to have your world come crashing down around you, even if other people think you are exaggerating your reaction.
It’s possible that after you give yourself permission to feel what you need to feel, you’ll eventually start to develop a new perspective on what you’re going through. Take as much time as you need to get there, knowing that the way you’re feeling now won’t last forever.
The Conclusion: When I suggest that positivity isn’t necessarily a good thing, I’m not trying to swing the pendulum from one black-and-white point of view to another. My point is that there is no such thing as a negative feeling, and it is not a sign of weakness to acknowledge and accept our feelings for as long as we feel it is necessary.
There is no hurry to complete our recovery. It is not necessary for us to impose a time limit on the grieving process. It is not required of us to fake a grin, seem as if everything is fine, or claim that we are fortunate even if we do not believe that we are.
It is acceptable to feel as though life generally stinks because, quite frankly, it does. It also possesses a certain elegance. It’s not a case of either/or rather, both are true.
However, the only way we will ever be able to completely appreciate the beauty is if we allow ourselves to feel the sorrow first. Otherwise, we will simply remain numb, going about our daily lives with our humanity repressed behind an emotional wall because we are too terrified to let it out. Fearing that it will overwhelm us or that others would judge us when they see the muddled depths of our emotional agony, we hide our feelings out of fear.
Some people might. But I’d much rather be evaluated for owning my darkness and my damage than for inadvertently shaming myself by pushing them down. I’d rather be judged for that.
And I would much rather feel better after allowing myself to hurt than to prolong my pain by pretending that everything is OK when it is not.
Therefore, this is the invitation that I extend to you: Just let yourself feel the pain and take no action. Listen to the misery yet remain silent. Do not make any attempts to mend it, lessen its severity, find a solution to it, find a resolution to it, or make it disappear in any other manner. Do not try to force yourself to appreciate it or reframe it until you have first allowed yourself to feel it to its fullest extent.
Feeling is the key to the healing process. And genuine healing is a lot more satisfying to experience than phony optimism.
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