The dark side of the bright side.

̶#̶g̶o̶o̶d̶v̶i̶b̶e̶s̶o̶n̶l̶y̶         #allvibeswelcome

We are encouraged now more than ever to talk about our feelings. To reach out to those closest to us when we are faced with struggles. We may need supporting through a serious life crisis or it could just be a vent about day to day issues. Either way the message is everywhere; from social media to TV campaigns and mental health charities – don’t suffer in silence, keep talking.

Expressing our feelings is a way of releasing the burden. Even if our confidant can’t actually solve the problem, simply feeling heard and validated can be incredibly uplifting. A problem shared and all that!

Yet what happens when talking actually makes us feel worse?

How many of us have reached out for support only to be met with the following responses?

“You just need to think positive” 

“You should be grateful for what you do have.”    

“Never mind, it could be worse.”

Did these pearls of wisdom ever make anyone feel better. I would say – absolutely NOT. In fact, the recipient is more likely to feel guilty or ashamed for having what are actually completely normal and appropriate human emotions.

Toxic positivity….

Is the belief that no matter how awful or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset.

Of course there is no denying that having a generally optimistic outlook is good for our wellbeing. Re-framing difficult situations can often supply a more compassionate and balanced perspective.

However, when positivity becomes overzealous and rigid it is not only unhelpful, it’s toxic. This attitude doesn’t just stress the importance of optimism, it minimises and denies any trace of human emotion.

In a nutshell – we shouldn’t have to pretend everything is OK when it isn’t.

What if it’s not only acceptable for us to feel all the emotions that accompany the bad stuff – but it’s beneficial? By providing opportunities to process, feel and accept we are able to move forward in a healthy way.

Difficult as it may be, undesirable emotions are best met with open arms. Dismissing pain and forcing positivity is a false economy. The negative energy will eventually find a way out – it has to. And it is unlikely to be released in a healthy way.

Facing all emotions, good, bad and ugly is all part of the authentic human experience. My feeling is that even the unpleasant aspects of life are integral to living fully. As such they should be embraced and shared.

The pressure to appear ‘OK’ invalidates the range of emotions we all experience. It can give the impression that you are defective when you feel distress, which can be internalised in a core belief that you are inadequate or weak.

As cited in Scully (2020)

Symptoms of toxic positivity

Hiding/masking your true feelings.

Trying to just ‘power through’ a situation by dismissing emotions.

Experiencing guilt or shame for feeling what you feel.

Minimising other people’s sad experiences with ‘feel good’ quotes/statements.

Trying to offer a different perspective instead of validating their emotional experience.

Shaming or berating others for expressing frustration or anything other than positivity.

Can lead to depression, self-doubt and denial.

Cherry (2021)

So what is the alternative to smothering someone with a blanket of positivity?

Acknowledging that we all have a myriad of complex emotions is a good starting point. For example, you can be grateful to the NHS for treatment you receive but still feel resentful of the fact you need treatment in the first place.

Empowering people to recognise and accept their thoughts and feelings is ironically more positive than following the urge to ‘buck them up’ using toxic positivity.

How to cultivate genuine optimism.

Silva (Garrison) 2021

Sources

Cherry 2021 Garrison 2021 istock 2021 Karoll cited in Skully 2020 Tristone Coaching

Self care is my super power!

This is a more personal post than my usual offering. The last 6 weeks have tested me beyond measure. So as the essence of this blog is using writing to enhance mental well-being then write about it I shall.

On the 2nd June I underwent major pelvic reconstructive surgery. The result of this surgery was that a large amount of my intestine was removed leaving me with a permanent ileostomy. An ileostomy is where the small intestine is diverted through an opening in the abdomen. Waste (or poo) is then collected into a bag placed over the ileostomy.

This was a planned surgery, however I think I was slightly naive as to just how tough mentally and physically it would be. Unfortunately there were post operative complications due to blood loss, low blood pressure and infection. I was in intensive care for a while and 6 weeks on I feel that my recovery is only just beginning.

Tears and isolation!

Due to covid I was unable to have visitors for the first 7 days and after that only 1 person could visit. This is exceptionally testing when the presence of loved ones is vital for comfort and strength.

Although the restrictions were completely necessary, they made the experience quite a lonely and at times frightening one. It is a vulnerable place to reside, in a hospital bed, weak and in pain. For a person who likes to be in control, relying on the expertise of others to keep me alive was a real emotional challenge. I cried like a lost child, a lot! It isn’t a place I would return to in a hurry.

Time heals all wounds?

As much as I want to put it all behind me and forget it really isn’t that simple. For a start I have a permanent reminder of a bag attached to my tummy. That in itself takes some getting used to. Also there is the exhaustion that follows major surgery, building my stamina back up is going to take a while. It is all quite raw, mentally and physically.

Time isn’t the best healer. You are.

Nandini

I accept that with time I will heal. The physical scars will become part of my story and the trauma will fade enough to manage. However it is important I do all I can to ease myself get through this turbulent season. Which means, self-care, compassion, time and lots more self-care. Oh and did I mention self-care??

Does self care really help?

There are so many positives in offering ourselves care it would be impossible to list them all. Here are a few of the benefits to whet your appetite! Please feel free to download my self-care flash-cards at the end of this post to get you started or enhance your existing journey of nurture and love.

We all need and deserve it!

Physical health improves

Respecting our bodies by supplying a healthy diet, exercise and sleep are fundamental acts of self care. Giving our systems the best of the best helps them to flourish. The human body is truly a marvel and definitely worthy of love and care.

Enhances emotional well-being

Even the smallest acts such as making your bed in the morning and practicing good sleep hygiene can make us feel happier. Self compassion can help to boost our self-esteem too and is a great habit to learn and incorporate into our lives. Every small expression of self care can lift mood so turning these acts into habits is absolutely worthwhile! You can read more about the value showing self compassion in my Dear Jenny blog.

Reminds us of our worth

Our thoughts can be critical and harsh, particularly with low mood. By practicing self care we can introduce a new belief system that tells us we are important and deserve care, respect and love. The more we offer ourselves care the more our self worth will grow. Reaching out to loved ones for support is an act of self care that should never be underestimated. I find asking for help incredibly difficult but I am getting better at it. Accepting genuine care and support from others is uplifting to all involved.

It is empowering

Feelings of powerlessness are a common aspect of depression so making positive choices around our self care gives us back some control. When we feel in charge our resilience and self esteem improve. This is a powerful gift and it is well within our reach.