There are so many feelings to be felt, yet I still hear "just be positive!", as though being positive will erase the discomfort of more challenging feelings. Not sure about you, but dismissing my actual feelings and suggesting I "get on with it" does nothing to relieve discomfort. Susan David, Ph.D., Harvard Medical School psychologist and author of Emotional Agility, writes about the downsides of valuing positivity over everything else. Consider this from a recent LinkedIn post (shared with her permission):
Toxic positivity: When people default to bypassing difficult emotions in the service of fake positivity is when "toxic positivity" takes root. In organizations, toxic positivity can masquerade as "get on with it."
Just like we can get stuck in difficult emotions, we can also get stuck in the idea of "positive only" and this is fundamentally an avoidant coping strategy (a form of gaslighting oneself or others).
Telling people to "Just Be Positive" can be done with great intentions, yet the impact is one of silencing—of making it feel unsafe to speak up lest one be labeled as "negative."
When we default to "Just Be Positive" we close ourselves off to learning from difficult emotions, understanding what values emotions are signposting, and developing skills in dealing with these difficult emotions.
This "Just Be Positive" approach undermines wellbeing. It also undermines organizational agility and resilience as issues aren't able to be effectively surfaced and addressed.
The beauty and fragility of life are interwoven. This reality demands that individually—and in our organizations—we let go of these narratives of toxic positivity and become better at navigating the full range of what makes us human. Otherwise, we are in denial.
Next time your child is having a hard time coping with online school and has a meltdown, or a young adult has trouble getting up the energy to face the task that is overwhelming him, or your mother calls for the 40,000th time to talk about her anxiety, or your employee dissolves in tears in your office , remember to hear the real feelings as information, rather than with judgment.
Uncomfortable is not synonymous with "bad" or "wrong" or "weak". As you shift your thinking, notice how much more is possible.
It is reassuring to remember that instead of being judgmental about my emotions, I can view them as information. That helps determine my actions, aligned with my values, in support of my optimal health.