Positivity can be toxic and it can be bad for your mental health.
If we went back to this time last year, I don’t believe any of us expected to be experiencing what we are right now in our world. The entire world is in survival mode. Every normal we knew is gone and is replaced by everything that is abnormal. How do we survive this?
The shock of our new normal, which is anything but, is traumatizing for all of us. We’ve all individually experienced “the dark night of the soul”, now we’re experiencing the collective “dark night of the soul”. Every training any of us have had as therapists did not prepare us for this.
How do we support and hold ourselves and each other through this?
I had a personal trauma this day last year. During a routine medical procedure, I flat-lined on the operating table and needed to be resuscitated. Am I the same person today as I was back then? Absolutely not. Did I learn a lot as a result? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Not a shot! I didn’t ask for it then, and I wouldn’t ask for it now.
My journey and what happened to me was for me to decipher it. It was an event in my life that I needed to recover from, but it was filled with a range of emotions from joy and elation to fear and depression.
Recovering from that, restoring normality for me again after an abnormal event, took me time, healing, and support.
Each month brought a new reality that I wasn’t prepared for or could never have predicted. I could not have got through that alone. And I did not recover alone, nor was I traumatized alone. It did not happen to ME; it happened to WE.
It affected everyone around me, who love me and support me, and they carried that with me. We all paid a price. I allowed myself to feel it. I allowed myself to make mistakes and I accepted that I didn’t know what the outcome would be. Some days I was fine with that, and some days I found that difficult to accept.
That trauma is supporting me in what I’m experiencing in our world right now. We’re living through a time of great change, shock, and loss. It can be fearful.
We can all have opinions about what this is all about, where it all went wrong, what the solutions are, etc, but is that helpful? Supporting ourselves and each other through these times is vital to our mental health.
When we’re emotionally struggling, it’s detrimental to our mental health to hear messages like “look on the bright side”, “stay positive”, “this is all happening for the greater good”, “you’re strong, you’ll get through this”, etc.
This sort of positivity can be toxic. It’s not helpful to anyone, including the person using it. It’s an attempt to distract from reality and grief. It’s a denial of experiencing emotions that make us human. It’s another weapon of mass distraction, and what we’re distracting ourselves from is our own suffering.
We live in an addictive society. These avoidant responses become our drug of choice to remove us from our own suffering and acceptance of reality. It is ok not to feel ok. It’s perfectly normal. And in these present circumstances, it’s more than normal, it’s real.
It’s great to have an optimistic outlook on life, but it’s vital that we feel our feelings first. Feeling our feelings is the only way we can heal our feelings. The only way out of something, is through it. Don’t skirt around the edges. Nothing in society is normal right now. There is no amount of positivity that can normalise abnormal situations.
We’re all getting through as well as we can right now, trying to adjust to a world that we haven’t faced before. And none of us have the answers. Most of us haven’t a clue how to handle it.
We’re plodding along doing the very best we can do with each day. Each day brings a new fear/joy, hope/disappointment, relief/worry, etc, and each day is exactly how it’s supposed to be for us. Pay no attention to how another is handling life right now. You just do your very best and do it in your own way.
For most people in the world right now, this collective fear and worry is drawing out trauma and suffering that may have been long buried within our energetic systems. Old trauma that isolation will not allow us distract ourselves from. How will we get through it, I’m not sure.
I hope as well as is humanly possible. But I do know what won’t help: avoiding it!
We’re definitely not all in the same boat. But we are all in separate boats. Floating. All of our realities are so different right now. And none of us know what that new shoreline will look like yet.
That reality cannot be avoided. And of course, it can be frightening. People are grieving the loss of people and scared they’ll lose those they love. Life as we know it has changed. There is no normal in our present climate. And every fear, shock, grief, we ever had under the surface that we hid away or avoided, raises its head to say “hello”.
The only normality in all of this is that it is perfectly ok not to feel ok. Will we learn a lot about ourselves as a result of this? I’m pretty sure we will, one way or the other, but we didn’t sign up for it. And I don’t believe we’ll get out the other side of this and say “I’m happy we had that experience”, “let’s do it again”!
So for now, stay grounded. Stay as well as you possible can. Allow yourself be real. Allow yourself feel every single feeling that you feel, good and bad. And don’t allow anyone minimise your feelings or dress them up in a big ball of toxic positivity.
I don’t know about you, but every time I ever had a good cry I started to feel a little better afterwards, and the people I choose to cry with, are the ones who won’t try to fix me. They just let me BE. They are not afraid of feelings. I never met anyone who died from their feelings. I never met one person who started crying and couldn’t stop. But I have met many people who got very sick from holding their feelings in.
Be who you are right now, feel what you feel right now, and don’t allow anyone or anything move you out of your authenticity. You are perfect just the way you are. You are handling things exactly as you need to handle things. It is perfectly ok for you to be exactly as you are right now in this present moment. And do everything you can do to stay exactly in your present moment. It will become your next now.
How do we deal with trauma? We don’t. We don’t move to fix it because it cannot be fixed. It needs to be felt, experienced. Not buried. We sit in it. We allow it to be whatever way it is. We talk. And then when we’re finished talking, we start talking again.
How do you support someone in trauma? You listen; and listening involves YOU not speaking, and when they’ve finished talking, you listen again. Don’t fix, don’t advise, don’t mop it up, don’t tell them it will be ok, don’t offer solutions, just be present and with yourself. When you can be present with you, you will sit present with all around you.
I facilitated an online supervision group today. One of my supervisees opened the session by saying she felt lonely. That she was missing home. The beauty of that honesty touched us deeply. The realness was tangible. Honesty evokes honesty. We all shared our own losses right now, including myself, and we spoke about the shift in our therapeutic work as a result of this crisis.
As therapists we’re working with so much loss, grief, and trauma right now. We’re human too. How do we hold our clients? By being real about our own losses right now. We ended up laughing by the end of that session. None of our circumstances changed; no big breathtaking new awareness, or was there? We most definitely felt the therapeutic power of being real and being held, and we’ll bring that congruent and authentic space back for our clients.
Stay real. Allowing yourself to feel, breathe, stay present, it’s the only thing we need to do to heal. And it is the only thing we can do right now. Everything else is avoidance.
If anyone attempts to move you from that place, just stay present, and tell them thank you, but that’s just not helpful to you right now. You rather be real. It might look messy. It involves tears, runny noses, tissues, panda eyes, etc, but it’s much more authentic for you than toxic positivity. And it’s good for your mental health.
Keep talking. Keep reaching out. Keep expressing how you’re feeling. But most of all, KEEP IT REAL.
As the Velveteen Rabbit explained so beautifully, “once you are real you cannot become unreal again, it lasts for always”.
Your realness is the most beautiful garment you can ever wear. Don’t change or alter it for anyone.
I wish you – REAL.