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Are you familiar with the phrase “toxic positivity”? While there are many benefits to looking for a silver lining in difficult situations, it’s not always the best coping strategy. Being authentic and validating our emotions is important to our health, and that’s why it’s okay to not be okay sometimes.

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

No doubt about it, practicing optimism can be an ideal, sought-after trait. We all have loved ones who radiate happiness, and we probably enjoy being around them. But, when trials come our way, it’s perfectly acceptable to struggle with feelings of sadness or frustration.

Sometimes, we can go too far in either direction; we focus so much on being positive all the time that we’re not allowing ourselves to properly process what is happening and learn to adapt to stressful situations. If we gloss over our true feelings, we miss out on opportunities to truly learn how to respond appropriately.

On the flip side, sometimes we focus so much on the negative that we’re unable to move forward and grow. We might wallow in self-pity or get stuck being angry at someone long after the situation is resolved. If we ignore coping mechanisms, we’re harming ourselves further by dwelling on the problem.

So, how do we find that happy medium? How do we get used to feeling uncomfortable, and then move on to healing?

Identifying Two Extremes

First, let’s identify some characteristics of toxic positivity.

  • Refusal or inability to acknowledge authentic response to stimuli
  • Feeling guilt for authentic response in situations
  • Shaming self or others for appropriate emotional responses
  • Refusal or inability to recognize what’s really bothering you

Over time, the continued suppression of actual emotions creates more unease and stress in the mind and body. 

Now, let’s look at some of the characteristics of someone who focuses too much on the negative.

  • Afraid to start new things for fear of the outcome
  • Gives up easily
  • Always plans for worst-case scenarios
  • Pushes loved ones away

Being perpetually pessimistic can also do a number on one’s mental, emotional, and physical health.

Finding Balance Between the Good and the Bad

Ideally, we find a balance between the good and the bad. We allow ourselves to feel our emotions but utilize tools to deal with them and move on. But how do we learn to be okay with our feelings?

  • Acknowledge them – Write down what you’re feeling, and what triggered it. Or, talk to your sponsor, a therapist, or a trusted loved one. Someone looking in from the outside can help you gauge your response and whether it’s extreme or not.
  • Stay away from social media – Scrolling through those feeds can make it easy to believe everyone else deals with trials better than you, thus sending you in a downward spiral of self-doubt and pity. Avoid social media so you can focus on what’s real in your own life.
  • Imagine what you’d say to someone else – If your loved one was in your situation, what would you say to him/her? You would probably offer compassion and validate how they’re feeling about something. Do the same for yourself, whether it’s a positive or negative response. 

It will take time to unlearn our reactions to stimuli, but the effort will be worth the work.