Updated on October 30th, 2018
We all love to be positive and attract beautiful things into our life. In our modern society, positivity has become a diktat. But what do we do when life batters us badly, and we’ve nowhere to go with our pain? Read on to find out why telling ourselves or others to Lighten up! when we’re in pain is cruel, why we need to re-learn NOT to be (always instantly) positive, and how to really reap the gifts of tough experience.
As a coach, and also as a person, I am a believer in positive thinking and positive action. Because I’ve seen, in my own life and in my clients’ lives, how this can transport you through doubts and obstacles and make your life more enjoyable, purposeful, and right for you.
In our modern, over-psychologised society…
We’re constantly getting advice, instruction and encouragement to be positive
From all sides. Everyone’s a coach or has their wisdom to offer on the subject; everyone’s written a book.
And of course we want to raise our vibration, attract good stuff into our life, achieve great things, feel happy all the time. Who wouldn’t want that?
At the root of this may well be our deep desire to avoid pain, discomfort or difficulty. Sure – we’ll do that, wherever possible.
But it seems to me that…
We’ve gone overboard with the positivism
It’s become a relentless diktat.
Some of us have become veritable positivism junkies:
- Pursuing every new positivity fad.
- Taking up every new positivity practice.
- Hanging on every word uttered by positivity gurus.
“But you’re a positivity guru yourself!” you might think and want to say to me.
Yes – and let me debunk that image straight away. 🙂
Perhaps the following hard fact has gone lost in the media-fuelled positivity frenzy:
Much as we would like our lives to be all roses and flowers, as they say in Italian – rose e fiori, sweet smelling and lovely – bad stuff still happens to all of us. Even a life you love – a life that is utterly joyful and right for who you are – is not free of challenges, ups and downs, and tough times.
Today’s positivity diktat can make us feel like we’re failing ourselves
When we can’t be instantly positive about the bad stuff, for example.
Or, even worse: When we feel we’ve brought it onto ourselves by having failed to emanate enough positive vibrations in the first place!
We might well end up pushing our bad feelings down, as, with all that positivity everyone expects from us all the time, there is nowhere else to put them.
I’ve known successful, admired people who, when going through extremely tough times, felt the loneliest they’d ever been, because they couldn’t tell anyone about what was really going on in their life. Because everyone wanted the perfect image of their success, and nobody wanted to see their pain. And because they themselves couldn’t bring themselves to destroy that success fantasy by letting the real picture be seen, fearing they would be judged a failure. And so they suffered and struggled on in silence – with a smile on their face to the world.
The cruelty, denial and abandonment behind merciless positivism
Have you ever thought that telling someone who’s going through a bad patch to Cheer up already! and Think positively! is actually cruel, as it denies their suffering and leaves them alone in it?
If you have ever been at the receiving end of such statements when you were really low, and have tried unsuccessfully to smile on, you’ll know how it feels.
Much as we might wish for one, there is no Magic Lighten Up Switch that immediately makes our pain go away. There is no Magic Fast Forward that instantly catapults us onto the other side of our pain, where we can be happy again.
The only way out of our pain is through
Our pain, like all our other feelings, whether they are ligh or heavy, happy or sad, wants to be felt. Feelings pass when they are truly allowed the space to be felt and expressed. Pain heals when we can share it with a compassionate person who will listen without judging us for being in pain. Wounds, emotional just like physical ones, heal when we give them time to heal.
Lighten up already! really doesn’t help.
But time, of course, is what we don’t want to take when we’re experiencing situations and feelings we deem unpleasant. We want out of there as quickly as possible!
Yet there lies perhaps the greatest gift and lesson of the painful situations and feelings we experience – if we do take the time to feel and process them: They teach us – indeed often force us – to pay attention to and take care of our inner state, as well as of what we present to the world on the outside. (And bring both into harmony.) They teach us to be honest with ourselves. They lead us to be compassionate and accepting of the more difficult, perhaps unwanted aspects of ourselves – our challenging feelings.
They also make us more respectful towards the timing of our inner workings, as opposed to being a slave to outer priorities, urgencies and schedules.
And that’s no bad thing: I’ve certainly been happier since I’ve organised my life in ways that allow me to live it at my own inner rhythm – take more time when I need to, and speed up when I can and want to.
Wallowing in negativity isn’t the solution either
I’m not saying that, in bad times, we should wallow in negativity. Nor see everything in the blackest of blacks. Nor feel like the world’s greatest victims.
Because our brain can get weirdly, morbidly addicted to pain – and we can get into a loop of keeping ourselves in pain, too – when there’s something in it for us: To avoid taking responsibility for something, for example. To get sympathy and support from others. Or to have an excuse for not facing our fears. But that’s another story.
And it’s definitely not the best way of dealing with painful experiences and feelings.
What I am saying is this:
Don’t be positive about things that aren’t positive
At least not instantly.
Don’t be positive and gloss over things like:
Being bullied at work. Your marriage being on the rocks and divorce looming. Losing a loved one. A lifelong dream shattering. A bad accident, or a life-changing illness taking an important function away from your body, or bringing chronic pain. Suffering an injustice. Making a colossal mistake. Falling ill with life or work stress. Having to fight a legal battle in court. Or whatever it is for you.
These are not positive things to happen to anyone. And they will affect you, unless you’re a zombie or a robot. Yes, they might teach you hard, yet useful lessons. And there might be ways of seeing them as ultimately positive – maybe. But that’s for later.
Right at the time when the bad stuff happens, here’s what not to do:
- Don’t pretend it’s not happening when it clearly is.
- Don’t put on a brave face when you’re not feeling it.
- Don’t say ‘Oh, it’s all right, really‘ if it isn’t.
- Don’t fool yourself that it’s all for the best when it clearly isn’t.
- Don’t brush over the pain with instant positivity.
What I want you to know
Bad stuff happens to the best people – sometimes for no apparent reason at all – and not everything bad that happens to you is your fault, because you have attracted it!!! Sometimes, folks, it’s just the universe, not you. Bad vibes and chaos all ’round, which originates who-knows-where, and you inescapably get caught up in that.
You may have times when you’re feeling more resilient, more corageous, or more able to face whatever’s happened to you. Good – be that, and do that. But when you’re not feeling it, acknowledge it.
Acknowledge what’s not all right. Spell out what’s scary, or painful, or disappointing, or not what you wanted. Name what’s changing your life in terrible ways. See it and accept it as part of life, without judging, just like the good stuff. And don’t resist it.
Feel the pain, have your cry. And take your time
Work to gently process your difficult feelings, until you’re able to let them go and move on. Speak to someone you trust, let your loved ones see you’re hurting, journal about what’s going on within you. Feel the pain, have your cry…
Feelings, as I said, will pass when we allow ourselves to feel them. They drift by like clouds in the sky – some thundery and stormy, some full of heavy rain, some light and feathery. The only healthy way to get through them is to go through them.
Give them time, whatever time feels right. And, by the way, not all feelings need to be processed for ages and ages! Grief might take longer to work through than a disappointment at work. My grief might take me longer to work through than your grief might take you to work through. Feelings, situations and people are different. If it takes you a while to get through your pain, so be it – find the time and patience for it. And if you find a way to feel your feelings and let them go quickly – like a black cloud that brings just a short cold shower and then blows over, giving way to more sunshine – good for you!
There’s no right or wrong way – just your way.
Whatever time you take, be kind to yourself in that time: Look after yourself and get help, if you need it. Until you’re healed and strong enough again to think more clearly about what to do next.
You would do that with a physical injury as well, wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t dream of happily going back to your full-on exercise routine with a freshly broken leg, wouldn’t you?
I believe that telling ourselves to pull ourselves together and be positive when we’re suffering is a form of violence! And that we somehow move forward even when we’re suffering – just not in the action-packed way we’ve come to think as ‘moving forward’ in our driven society.
The spring board for your next move comes later
Acknowledging our dissatisfaction, our difficulty, our overwhelm, our fear or disorientation – or whatever else we’re experiencing during a bad patch will help ease the very intensity of feeling them.
LATER ON, these challenging feelings might well become the spring board for a constructive, positive next move or a change we can make to help ease them – when we’re ready for it. When we’ve digested what’s happened. When the pain starts to lessen.
THEN, and only then, see what you make of your painful experience. Where it’s left you. And what your best next step could be from there.
And IN TIME, you can decide that you came out of the experience stronger for having survived it, or fought your corner. You might realise that not getting what you wanted turned out a blessing. Or not. In which case you might simply say: “Senseless sh… happens” – and decide to put it behind you, and live with the consequences as best you can!
Over to you
What are your experiences with tough experiences and feelings and the pressure to be positive?
What do you do to get through them?
When does being positive help you, and when not?
I’d love to read your views! Why don’t you share them in the comments box below?