Can positivity sometimes be unhelpful?

12 Nov 2021
Bookmark

In the last decade there has been a big emphasis on being positive all the time.

I wrote a blog years ago, ‘Do we always have to accentuate the positive?’

I have had a problem with this and now I am reading articles that agree with me, that in some instances being over positive is not appropriate or even helpful.

How can positivity be extreme you may ask? Positivity has a time and place, and if ill-timed or relied on in an inappropriate situation, positivity has the potential to be dangerous.

However, it can be harmful to relationships, particularly when a person is struggling, and their partner pushes them to “Look on the bright side” without listening to what they are feeling.

 

A friend has serious problems with her eyes, yet people often tell to think of others and to be happy, so she feels her problem is minimised. Sometimes my friend just wants people to accept something is bad and sit with her.

 

After the fires people said to me a week later, you are so lucky to be alive and you should be grateful you only lost things. I was alive and grateful but just to have someone acknowledge the loss I felt would be better than being told move on and be happy. I know when someone is sick or grieving people don’t know what to say but just saying to someone you don’t know what to say is honest.

I see myself as a realist not negative. I don’t want to be dismissed when I tell people how I feel. I feel positivity has a role but now they call it toxic positivity when people are not listening or acknowledging someone’s pain but just saying being positive will make things better.

What do you think? 

Are ok when someone tells you to look at what you have and not to complain? Or do you find, when you are telling people how you are feeling that they don’t listen and tell you to be grateful, that you get annoyed.

Have you any examples of excessive positivity or inappropriate positivity that people have said to you?

Leah

A Moodscope member.

A Moodscope member.

Thoughts on the above? Please feel free to post a comment below.

Moodscope members seek to support each other by sharing their experiences through this blog. Posts and comments on the blog are the personal views of Moodscope members, they are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice.

Email us at support@moodscope.com to submit your own blog post!

Comments

Paula

Nov. 12, 2021, 6:25 a.m.

Hi Leah. Inappropriate positivity can be annoying. It feels like the person is not attuning to my feelings or acknowledging them. Maybe that person has never been through a terrible loss and has no idea what it’s like. Or maybe they have and they cannot go near those emotions again, so they try and pull me out of mine too. Perhaps unconsciously. It’s happened to me a few times. Maybe they are too tired to react except on Pollyanna autopilot (there are some Pollyannas around). Not everyone is very empathic. But I have never known anyone to be deliberately cruel. In any case, after a great loss, the mind and body are in such a perturbed state that any comment, however well meaning, can miss its mark. Best to let it go, I believe, and not think it’s toxic, it’s just human nature.

Reply

Leah

Nov. 12, 2021, 8:44 a.m.

Paula, yes I don’t like using the word toxic either. I think you can gently tell people ot is not helping me to be told to stay strong but I need someone to listen to me.

Mary Wednesday

Nov. 12, 2021, 8:10 a.m.

The kind of "positivity" you describe is just callous dismissal wrapped in a tissue thin carapace of care. One Facebook group I belong to frequently distresses me; people share their problems and struggles, and the comments are full of, "Stay strong," and "Relax, you got this." No, that person has not "got this," and telling they have is cruel. Telling people to look on the bright side negates and invalidates the sufferer's emotions. In the fires, you may have escaped with your life - that is, you were still ambulant and breathing, but everything that was your life was destroyed; you were bereaved in the most traumatic and devastating way. People say all these things, trying to be positive because they find it difficult to be with the more painful emotions. They feel inadequate and uncomfortable in the face of suffering and grief and so push that discomfort aside. I am sorry those things were said to you. I think emotional "intelligence" should be taught officially in schools.

Reply

Leah

Nov. 12, 2021, 8:46 a.m.

Mary thank you for your kind words. I know some people have no idea what say when people have suffered trauma. Stay strong and you will be ok, well maybe I can be strong and ok but right now we maybe struggling and life is tough.

greenjean

Nov. 12, 2021, 8:19 a.m.

I have a very good friend who can be very insensitive when it comes to over- positivity and has unwittingly upset me by those insensitive remarks without even realising she has! Several years ago my then childless daughter had her third miscarriage and when I told my friend she said ‘at least you know she can get pregnant’ - all I wanted my friend (whose 2 daughters had children & never had miscarriages) to say was how sorry she was- instead of which her remark made me feel 3 miscarriages were inconsequential. I have noticed that this same friend expects lots of sympathy, empathy etc when going through difficulties herself. We are still very good friends but I have had to learn that she doesn’t always help situations by her over- positivity. Good blog Leah - thanks

Reply

Leah

Nov. 12, 2021, 8:49 a.m.

Green Jean, My child had two miscarriages and people said something similar to her. She joined a support group so she could educate people about how a miscarriage is a real loss and needs acknowledgement.

Liz

Nov. 12, 2021, 9:08 a.m.

Hi Leah and Greenjean. I did a service once for parents who had children already but their next little one only lasted in this world for a few hours. Their devastation was palpable. I haven't had my own children so to meet this wonderful family and all that they had coped with opened my eyes up to the pain. We most definitely honoured the life of their baby, so important.

Leah

Nov. 12, 2021, 9:15 a.m.

That is so important Liz

greenjean

Nov. 12, 2021, 8:25 a.m.

Just read your comment Mary. I do agree - emotional intelligence should be taught in schools!! Hopefully our own offspring will pick up some of the sensitivity from their ‘oversensitive’ mothers. I have often been told I’m oversensitive but I do think it’s made me sensitive to others situations and needs. So pleased you are well again Mary.

Reply

Leah

Nov. 12, 2021, 8:51 a.m.

Can emotional intelligence be taught. Like empathy I think it is intuitive. I am told I am too sensitive

Jul

Nov. 12, 2021, 8:52 a.m.

Hello Leah I think when facing someone who has experienced great loss and tragedy, it is impossible to say the right thing. It's a learning curve for those not affected by great loss. I am thinking of the words I have used to people who have been in these sorts of ghastly life threatening situations and I am sure I am guilty of saying the wrong thing. But I would never urge positivity. It's a lazy suggestion, plucked out of the air, a soundbite. That's all it is. The absolute horror of what happened to you Leah was such a shock. Bush fires happen to other people, not people we know. It was in January wasn't it? When did you find out? How do you feel now? Do you find that most people close to you expect you to have "moved on" by now? Do you find yourself telling people you've never met before about your loss as a way of explaining who you are today?. Jul xx

Reply

Leah

Nov. 12, 2021, 9:14 a.m.

Jul yes I sometimes tell people when they ask me questions Zbout why I moved etc. so e people are sympathetic but some just ignore me. It was NYE 2919 fir me but the fire lasted till sent till February . I agree people have no idea and I too have said things I wish I hadn’t. I think as we value lives over things and we should, people feell losing things is not do bad. Jul your answer as usual is thoughtful.

Orangeblossom

Nov. 12, 2021, 8:56 a.m.

Hi Leah, thanks for the blog. The phrase “never mind”makes me incandescent as it is a meaningless Callous cliché. It embodies an attitude which says, I can’t cope with what you are saying & I don’t want to know anymore.

Reply

Leah

Nov. 12, 2021, 9:16 a.m.

Never mind yes seems pointless at times. O B

Liz

Nov. 12, 2021, 9:02 a.m.

Hi Leah. I so agree with you. And I think it is backed up by a lot of people on social media just posting perfect pictures of themselves, their dinner, their outings. It's like a mantra, only show the pretty and positive side of things. I think people often say things when they are struggling to find the words... like when you suffered your losses. You lost so much more than just things and the reverbations are felt I would imagine for a long time. What if the same happened to me - how would I feel? I'm just trying to think about it now. To have my laptop melted and all my work gone. To lose my mum's precious rings and her wedding photos and my link to the past. To have to start from scratch again. The list is exhaustive. To be acknowledged and listened to is so important. When I was younger, and struggling mentally, the attitude wasn't really acknowledgement but "think of all the things that you do have". The one I used to cringe with was that I should be happy because I was thin, blonde and had everything going for me (but yet what was wrong with the men (or maybe by inference me) that I hadn't been "snapped up". Thereby increasing said anxiety over these sort of matters and my confused and depressed head. You look a certain way, therefore you are a certain way therefore all must or should be well, otherwise you are an ungrateful sod. I've let my mask down over the years and I'm more honest about how I have been feeling, not so afraid to let people see the real me, and I have so learnt who has got my back of late. That's been a surprise. I love the fact that your blogs always ask so many pertinent questions each time. You'll get many different answers but I hope that you will feel that on here, you are listened to, understood and much respected. Hugs from the Highlands x

Reply

Leah

Nov. 12, 2021, 9:18 a.m.

Liz, Thanks for answering my question in a well explained way. People make assumptions. In the late 1970s I was told I was too young to be depressed and too fat to be depressed. I should be happy. Back then only skinny old people were supposed to be depressed.

Valerie

Nov. 12, 2021, 9:23 a.m.

I was very low indeed once,at rock bottom with problems coming at me from all directions.A nice man asked me why I was looking so glum,so I gave him a brief outline.He patted my arm and said "Into every life a little rain must fall".I said through gritted teeth that this was not just a little rain but a *******cyclone.He got the message.In all fairness,he had been on a ship that was torpedode in WW2,few survivors.It had left him with little patience with anyone who moaned. There are some situations that do not have any positive aspects,and one can at least resist the urge to pretend otherwise.Sometimes life just sucks.

Reply

Leah

Nov. 12, 2021, 9:37 a.m.

Valerie , My dad was like the nice man as my dad was a prisoner of war and he suffered so much. As a young girl I could not be sick because I was never sick than he had been,

Teg

Nov. 12, 2021, 9:53 a.m.

Hi Leah Thanks for the positive post! I feel a positive attitude can be beneficial but it should be mixed with a touch of realism. Nobody can be filled with positivity all the time, we will always be a bundle of different emotions. A balance is needed between them all including having a positive viewpoint. Wishing you a positive day.

Reply

Leah

Nov. 12, 2021, 10:51 a.m.

Teg I agree a positive balance touched with realism.

M

Nov. 12, 2021, 10:52 a.m.

Hi Leah, I completely agree with you, this constant focus on positivity and being "happy" is naive and uninformed, it is also harmful. A friend was on the bus that was bombed during the London bombings, she had stayed overnight with a friend and was on her way to work, it was not her usual bus route. She survived and was constantly told how lucky she was. Her retort was "what's lucky about being on a bus that gets bombed? There is a wonderful series on Radio 4 called "fourthought" with Ollie Mann, not sure if you have access to this on sounds, but it's worth listening to. A recent speaker spoke of her very late diagnosis of cancer while pregnant and of her intense irritation of people telling her to "stay positive". Not helpful and completely enraging and therefore counterproductive, hence harmful. What people need it support and if you don't know what to say in distressing circumstances, ask. There are 4 little, but powerful words when strung together. "how can I help?". You have removed the opportunity for the other person to say "no", were you to ask "can I help?". By asking "how can I help?", you have demonstrated that you have listened and are acknowledging the situation or distress. The other person may well give a defensive answer and say they are fine, in which case, you can simply apologise and say you have misunderstood, no harm done, but you are now engaging in dialogue and may get to the issue rather than shutting down dialogue. Being positive and being grateful are two different things. One can be miserable about a situation, but grateful for support. It is not a case of being one thing or another, (positive or negative), we are all of the spectrum of emotions and feelings at various times and this is constantly changing breath to breath.

Reply

Leah

Nov. 12, 2021, 11 a.m.

Thanks M, I found people who said how can I help often said they couldn’t when I said what I needed. I find when people see what you need and fill that need it helps.

M

Nov. 12, 2021, 12:17 p.m.

Interesting, it's obviously an empty offer if someone asks how they can help then can't/wont/dont when you say what is needed. Maybe there is something else they could do in which case. Offers clearly need to be genuine but some offers will be about the person offering, rather than their offer itself. (If you can't deliver, better not to ask and risk letting the person down). As always, the wheat needs separating from the chaff, but that shouldn't stop us trying. I agree, it is particularly welcome when someone is attuned and automatically sees what is needed and simply does, but it doesn't come risk free and without the potential for misunderstanding either.

Reply

Leah

Nov. 12, 2021, 8:47 p.m.

Thanks M for your post. I understand people want to help but it can be complicated.

Bearofliddlebrain

Nov. 12, 2021, 1:44 p.m.

Spot on again today, Leah - another good blog. Gets the liddle brain cells working and brings up memories of when I was younger and didn’t know how to react to someone else’s pain. I took my cues from my mum. She was very caring to people who had lost a relative, but sometimes would use the "*** moves in mysterious ways" line when she really didn’t know what to say. That used to upset me - especially if it was to families who had lost a son or daughter - we had a few of those happen in our small rural village, due to traffic accidents. No parent wants to think that *** chose this to happen to them. But realistically, I think it was because she didn’t know what else to say - and there was never any malice in her way with someone who’d been bereaved. My neighbour’s daughter messaged me a couple of weeks ago to say her mum was due to come home from hospital after a serious operation. I asked how could I help? The reply was food please - something for dinner for mum and dad. They were grateful, daughter (who lives a few hundred miles away) was grateful and I felt like I’d helped in a practical way. Positivity does have its place - but forced positivity is awful!! Completely different scenarios spring to mind: estate agents trying too hard to ‘sell’ us an awful house recently!! The painted-on smile that never reaches someone’s eyes. Some shop assistants who tell you to ‘have a nice day’ when they don’t actually mean it sincerely - they’re just told to say it and it becomes meaningless. Ditto the waitress who had already brought our meals and said the ubiquitous ‘enjoy!’ and when I asked for a glass of water she brought it and came out with "enjoy!’ again! Hilarious! Mmm…yummy water!! Lol! Sadly, there will always be those who tread all over our feelings, when they either have no empathy, no idea what to say, or cannot wait for us to finish talking about how things are for us, so they can get their own story in and it all goes back to them. Narcissism. Love and Bear hugs x x x

Reply

Leah

Nov. 12, 2021, 8:51 p.m.

Thanks Bear. I like the way you look at a topic and analyse carefully. Yes people have said to me what your mum said.

Yolanda

Nov. 12, 2021, 1:51 p.m.

Good afternoon to U all members of Moodscope. I use to read the blogs in the the past too. I remember reading Leah blogs I felt quite conformably. Thanks Leah for your blog today. It was very helpful to me. All the best and have a good afternoon. Good energy to U all. x Yolanda Andrews

Reply

Leah

Nov. 12, 2021, 8:52 p.m.

Thanks Olanda for your kind words.

Sarana

Nov. 12, 2021, 2:39 p.m.

I love this blog - thanks for writing it. It makes me think of this cartoon - https://xkcd.com/828/ Sx

Reply

Leah

Nov. 12, 2021, 8:53 p.m.

Sara a I will look at thst cartoon later. Thanks

Bailey

Nov. 12, 2021, 4:48 p.m.

My extremely emotionally abusive ex told me on Valentines Day after my parked rental car slid into an ice mound and was damaged;"don't have a crisis." Or he would get up and say:"let's have a good day today, OK?" As if dictating my feelings to me in advance so they would suit him. Needless to say he is not around anymore...not part of my life.

Reply

Leah

Nov. 12, 2021, 8:56 p.m.

Bailey, thanks for your reply. I think that dismissal of one’s troubles with a let’s be Holly is so annoying. People say there are so many people worse off count your blessings .

Sally

Nov. 12, 2021, 8:05 p.m.

HI Leah, it most certainly is wrong to be or be expected to be positive all the time! To give you an example: when i met up with friends, I expressed my fears about my granddaughter’s development, ( especially as we have a son with severe disabilities). I was told I was over worrying, that I should just enjoy my granddaughter, etc etc. Well, two years on, I’m afraid to say I WAS right. There are some real areas of concern, she’s 4 1/2 now. WHY oh WHY do people always want to make it alright?! I felt as if I was imagining problems, yes, really! You may say that was MY mistake, not trusting my instincts , but the arguments put forward were pretty strong, and really caused me to doubt myself. Thank you, Leah. On the metal, as ever!

Reply

Leah

Nov. 12, 2021, 9:01 p.m.

Sally, I am sorry people caused you to doubt yourself. I think we want things to be ok but often they are not and we need support not she will be ok mate. You have so much experience with child development that your friends should listen to you. They probably though they were helping you but you needed someone to acknowledge your very real concerns. Thanks Sally .

Leah

Nov. 13, 2021, 10:39 a.m.

Thanks everyone for your replies and fir reading my blog. Some sad examples of inappropriate positivity and some encouraging stories, Feel free to comment

Reply

Charles

Nov. 13, 2021, 3:08 p.m.

Thanks Leah, I agree that despite no doubt meaning well positivity can be innappropriate, and to quote from the bible ( I think somewhere), to " .. weep with those who weep, and/or to mourn with those who mourn is perhaps better. Chartlie

Reply

Leah

Nov. 14, 2021, 2:03 a.m.

Charles thanks for the quote.

Login or Sign Up to Comment