and other really annoying things we say
Hello dear reader,
Sat at the table the other day and our second son was bemoaning the loss of another sports day (he’s 15). The loss of another set of end of year events, the lack of school trips and so on. My younger son (12) piped up with his own losses through two back to back isolations, no off-curriculum days as all back at home again and so forth.
I did my usual knee-jerk.
You have so much to be grateful for.
This, coupled with these other classics, is a version of toxic positivity.
Tell me five things you’re grateful for
At least you have been able to conceive
Don’t be negative
Think happy thoughts
If you think negatively then you won’t get better
It could be worse
Everything happens for a reason
Toxic Positivity is the dark side of the tendency to think positively. It’s when we don’t allow people to process disappointment, or show their feelings of pain. It’s when we think that we are in control of everything working out and if we just think in the right way all good things will come to us. That possibly, the reason someone doesn’t get the job, doesn’t get pregnant, or doesn’t get better, is because they just didn’t think in the right way. It’s when we don’t really want to dwell on pain and discomfort because, well, it’s all rather awkward and, please, could you just put your pain and failure away because you’re showing us all up.
There’s a scene in a film called The Beach that has stayed with me for years. The Beach is a book and movie about a community of backpackers in Thailand, largely separated from the rest of the world, living an idyllic, slow paced life of leisure. Lots of things happen, but at one point someone is badly injured. The leader does not want to compromise on their shared values and so he isn’t offered medical help. He is in agony.
They don’t like the sounds of his pain, and so they put him in a tent outside the community.
This is what we often do when things aren’t going well for people. We have compassion for a while, maybe, but then the constant challenge of their pain is something we just want to switch off.
I know I have done this. Or wanted someone to quickly turn the corner on their disappointment or failure or heartache so that we can get back to the fun side of the island.
But life isn’t like this. We need to be able to experience and make room for the positive and the negative, the joy and the pain at the same time. Rarely in life is it all good or all bad. And pushing people to move on before they can is not helpful. Sometimes we need to sit for a while.
This does not mean that we should wallow.
Wallowing is staying stuck, refusing to see the light, not being able to see the good or see the things that we can be grateful for.
Brene Brown and Dr Susan David have a fantastic two-part podcast on this topic if you want a deep dive into it. But here is a great quote for you to take from it:
Toxic positivity is forced positivity. It may sound innocuous on the surface, but when you share something difficult with someone and they insist that you turn it into a positive, what they’re really saying is my comfort is more important than your reality.
Ouch. Guilty as charged.
Here’s some questions for you to think about.
Hope you have a great day, full of the joys and trials of life,
P.S. You can catch up on my disappointment diaries here.