Me: “I hate the way my hair parts in the front.”
Someone else: “Well, you’ll just have to learn to love it!”
Me: “My client decided not to continue services.”
Someone else: “Well, think of all the great practice you got with that intake!”
Me: “I’m grieving about the election.”
Someone else: “Well, we just have to hope for the best!”
When did we become so freakin’ positive?
Yes, positive thinking is what gets me through my early mornings and daily commute and evening statistics projects, but when did everyone else decide that “positivity” is the only feeling I am allowed to express? I see wall signs and Facebook posts proclaiming “Positive vibes only!” or “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Yes, that’s all well and good, but as a therapist, it concerns me.
If positivity and re-framing and good thoughts are the only things allowed, what happens when we don’t feel positive? If our family only expects us to be in a good mood, will they be able to handle any of our other emotions? Will our friends be able to make sense of the madness, anger, and frustration that is sometimes part of our crazy, confusing, and exhausting existence on this planet? Will we be able to look within and understand ourselves?
I don’t think we were designed to be positive all the time. I think the whole “time to laugh and time to mourn” thing set us up with the expectation that there will be times in life when we need to do both…and maybe not 99% laughter and the rare 1% mourning, but sometimes even 50/50 or maybe a whole season of mourning.
I’ve worked with so many clients who can’t figure out how to bring happiness and positivity into their unemployment and health problems and racial tension. I’ve seen the anxiety and depression that can result from just trying so hard to be happy and coming up short. I’ve witnessed the desperation that can lead to social isolation and pills and alcohol because sometimes the world only seems to welcome the “positive people” or offer empty advice.
I used to bottle up all my emotions after days working with families experiencing crisis and trauma until it would all burst out and I’d start randomly crying in meetings. My boss told me I didn’t have to do that anymore. She encouraged me to take some time every day to think about what I had experienced; to allow myself to feel the sadness for a time and acknowledge the emotional toll of my work. She recommended that I have people in my life to check in with me–to make sure I didn’t become overwhelmed and buried underneath the darkness. So, I do that now.
And today, as so many people around me seem to be dealing with some heavy things, I know I can’t fix anything, but I can tell you:
You don’t always have to be happy.
We can cry together.
Things don’t have to make sense.
No one has it all together.
Life is hard.
I can handle your complex emotions.
I’m still your friend.