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Is Staying Positive Doing You More Harm Than Good?


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Feelings. I want to write a blog post about feelings because I believe different emotions other than ‘positive’ emotions get a bad rep.

 

Recently a prospective client was apologizing to me about his “negativity.” His father recently died, he was sick for a while, and he was a bit uncertain about his future as he was transitioning from full time work to something less strenuous as he was retiring. I told him there’s nothing to apologize for and that feelings are feelings. It’s good to feel all of them as suppressing them, generally, does us no good.

 

Of course, there’s a difference between feeling feelings and wallowing in them. If you give yourself the time to feel your feelings (‘good’ or ‘bad’) then, usually, you feel better than before. Sometimes people get stuck in their feelings and continue to cycle on them which can lead to other challenges.

 

We tend to add value to our feelings and rank them according from best to worst (perhaps, not literally but generally). I believe we do this because we think and judge in opposites (good or bad, black or white, right or wrong). I'm mainly talking about native English speakers here. I’m aware other languages have other conceptual constructs that affect how people perceive reality.

 

Obviously, it doesn’t feel good to feel down so I understand how we judge the experience as bad or uncomfortable. What if prescribing a value and ranking our emotions though does us more harm than good?

 

I was taught to believe that there are higher frequency emotions like love, peace and joy and lower frequency emotions like sadness and anger. The frequency part comes from the idea of emotions being ‘energy in motion.’ To some extent, I still believe in the power of what we deem ‘positive’ emotions. There have been different studies that revealed optimistic people tend to live longer than their pessimistic counterparts as an example.

 

This said, by ranking emotions I don’t want to contribute to toxic positivity. Toxic positivity is the idea that people should always be positive even in the face of tough circumstances. This usually takes the form of rejecting or denying painful feelings and situations by phrases like, “It was probably for the best” or “good vibes only” whether to yourself or others.

 

The belief behind toxic positivity is that some emotions are “better” or “more enlightened” than others where in actuality all emotions are valuable and provide us with important information in their contexts.

 

Dissatisfied at work? Your emotions are at play to help you out. Why are you dissatisfied? Is it the job or the people at your job? Is it something else? Taking time to feel your feelings and unpacking what your feelings are telling you helps you grow and heal.

 

Insisting on staying positive or having a positive mindset, despite difficult circumstances, can lead you to feeling shame or guilt about not feeling great. Shame and guilt can be important feelings to feel in certain contexts, but I don’t believe those feelings are helpful if you’re experiencing grief or other raw emotions that match your reality.

 

I had one client who experienced a lot of denial of her experiences, and she engaged in an unproductive habit because of it. Once she could see her experiences as they really were, she was able to quit her habit. It’s been about three years now and she is much healthier and happier and continues to not engage in that habit.

 

To me, that’s a testament of the power of acknowledging one’s experiences and her example is one story out of many who feel their feelings and move on.

 

With saying all this, I hope the next time you’re not feeling great you can take a moment or more and feel all your feelings about it so you can process, and address, as opposed to suppress. If you’d like support with this, please apply for a Get Acquainted Call where we can explore next steps.

 

Best,

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