With the self-development and personal growth niche has come a positivity movement. While there is importance and merit to changing our thoughts and raising our vibration. I believe the positivity movement ends up being another band aid solution to a bigger problem. Press play to hear more….
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I think that positivity can be harmful to connection, to ourselves, and to others. Let me explain…..
We are a nation of that suffers from extreme avoidance of uncomfortable feelings and emotions and to the detriment of our health, our connection to other humans and our ability to simply enjoy life. We avoid feeling our uncomfortable and “negative” emotions at any cost. We’d much rather ignore it, push it away or numb it with food, sex, alcohol, drugs or tv.
So how does the positivity movement play into that?
Well when someone is feeling anger or sadness and then are told or believe that they should just change their thoughts, meaning spin what they are thinking into a positive they are bypassing feeling that emotion.
An example… A friend of mine was talking to me on the phone and explaining what was going on in her life. She was feeling burnt out, exhausted and hanging on by a thread and for good reason. She has gone through a lot of shit. She explained what was going on and apologized for not being more “positive.”
I asked her “why do you say that? It’s perfectly reasonable to be feeling the way that you are feeling. It’s important to talk about how you’re feeling and to talk when you feel that you’re struggling with someone who can understand. And I don’t expect you to be positive and uplifting all the time.”
She then went on to explain how she had tried to talk to another friend. This friend while well meaning had tried to tell her to “just be positive and find the good out of it all.”
I explained that when we are going through something challenging it is very important to give ourselves the space to feel what we are feeling. It’s okay to be angry, or sad, or frustrated, or annoyed, or apathetic. All of it is okay. Talking can help with that. Now if we keep staying in that space and repeating the same story over and over — we can get stuck. But even that is okay.
Finding the positivity of our experience is very important, BUT and this is a huge BUT, it comes after we’ve had time to process and feel our emotions around an experience.
To tell someone when they are in struggle…..
At least you’re not experiencing ….
At least you have this…..
At least you can say this……
At least you get time for….
Is often not helpful because in doing so you are bypassing their emotional struggle and trying to change how they are feeling. When someone comes to us and they are in struggle — more often than not they do not want you to “fix” them or to “change” things for them or even to “make it all better.”
This applies to how we approach emotion in ourselves too. If we are experiencing something challenging and we automatically say “at least you have a house and your not dead,” while it might be true, we aren’t validating our own struggle. Instead, we’re pushing it aside and our emotions down with it.
I’m guilty of this too. But the reasons why I think it’s important to draw our attention to it is because it’s not a true empathetic response. Not for other people and not for ourselves.
What most people need is someone to fully listen to them, for you to give them their full attention, to receive it with non-judgement, and to be empathetic.
Now people often misunderstand or don’t understand what being empathetic means and how to communicate empathetically rather than with sympathy. The two are very different.
Brene Brown has a wonderful video around this subject that really helps to highlight the difference between the two and how one, empathy can fuel connection and the other, sympathy creates disconnection.
She goes on to explain 4 key pieces to empathetic communication.
- Being able to have perspective and being open to putting yourself in another persons shoes.
- Leave the judgement behind. Listen fully and give someone your full attention.
- Notice the emotion(s) that are coming up for the other person and times when you’ve felt that for yourself
- Communicating that you recognize the emotion and understand what that feels like
In empathy, we say “hey, I see you and I understand what you’re going through, it sucks, and I’m here for you.”
In sympathy, we say “oh man yeah that situation really sucks. Poor you.”
In order to be empathetic with someone you need to allow yourself to be uncomfortable too, to remember what that feeling feels like. It’s a choice and one that takes courage and vulnerability.
Vulnerability creates connection and intimacy. When we try to twist someone’s experience into a positive we are not being empathetic. It takes no effort, Vulnerability or compassion in order to “be positive.” Instead its a quick way to disconnect and really just make ourselves feel better, like we’ve done something to “help” them.
Is this easy. No. But if we want to establish true connection and deep intimacy in our relationships it’s necessary. And really it takes a very grounded individual to put their ego away for a moment and their need to help aside in order to really listen to someone and give them their full attention. To open their heart, and ears and to give this person their attention, understanding and support. Through holding the space not through trying to fix things.
Because I know personally, I don’t need my friends to fix me but I sure as hell need an understanding and non-judgemental ear, a person who can allow themselves to be open enough to empathize when I’m in the trenches working through difficult emotions and for them to go down with me and say “I’m here with you friend.”
This is also how I’ve approached my own “positivity spin band-aid”, I too used to try to spin everything into a positive thing and you know what, it didn’t work. There is a difference between trying to cover discomfort with a fake smile and positive affirmation and allowing myself the space and love to feel everything and raising my vibration and letting go of old patterns.
Now I let myself feel what I’m feeling, everything from the anger, judgement, frustration, jealousy, resentment, blame, etc. I let it all come into my experience and be there. I know that just because I feel it DOESN’T mean that I HAVE to act on it.
I let myself feel knowing that it doesn’t change who I am as a human being. I deserve empathy from others and most importantly from myself. I know that every experience has merit and has a potential lesson for me to learn. But that lesson is NOT punitive, and often the clarity of that may not come until well AFTER I let myself feel and process. I don’t deserve to have to push my emotions, feelings or experience aside because each and every thing that I feel is valid and the same goes for you.
Well until next time my friends,
Remember …. It’s about loving yourself where you are so that you can get to where you want to go…one step at a time, one change at a time.
Gratitude & Hugs
Body Awareness & Wellness Coach
I help women with sensitive souls who struggle with overwhelm & emotional fatigue. I help them to reconnect to their inner wisdom and find the stillness within that will allow them to thrive in this chaotic and loud world while helping them to create their own map to health and wellness.