We’ve all heard sayings such as: “just stay positive”, “positive vibes only” and “don’t worry, it’ll all work out”. These words are taking over social media posts, inspirational posters, and easily fall out of our mouths when we’re met with uncomfortable emotions. While these phrases are well-intentioned, they can leave us feeling even more disconnected. This is due to the implicit message of only accepting a narrow range of feelings. Basically we now feel bad for feeling bad, since we can’t choose our emotions. So how can we shift from spreading toxic positivity to providing hope?
First off, let’s just own that most of us have been on the receiving and perpetuating end of these phrases. Even as a trained therapist, I recognize these words have slipped out of my mouth before I could even blink. Toxic positivity is vastly ingrained in our culture, and the discomfort around sitting with sadness, anger, frustration, etc. is present. Yet, when we are struggling and seeking hope, we also need validation and connection. We actually need our support system to acknowledge our pain, rather than dismiss it.
To illustrate my point, try this out for me...Think about something you’re struggling with and notice how your brain and body responds to each of these phrases:
“Being negative won’t help”
“This is hard for you. How can I help make your day easier?”
“This sounds like a challenging situation. What are some challenges you’ve overcome in the past?”
“I see you trying. I believe in you”
How was it hearing the first three statements compared to the last three? What differences do you notice in wording?
The first three are actually dismissing your current feelings. Compared to the last three, these words validate the struggle and provide encouragement. That order is key to inspiring hope and building connection: validate first, encourage second.
While it is easier to keep your distance from someone’s discomfort, meeting your loved ones where they are is what will truly inspire healing. While we all hold the capacity to better our situation and heal emotionally, a support system along-side us can help ease that process.