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The Problem With Positivity

One of my dearest friends has recently lost her sister in a car crash. The sister was an accomplished doctor, a loving mother in her early forties. To my surprise, my friend told me about her personal tragedy as if she was reading a supermarket checklist:

I’m so busy.

Work is hectic.

I lost my sister.

I have so much work to do.

I can’t call in sick.

I was confused and asked: “you lost your sister? What do you mean?”

Friend: “She died last Friday on a car crash”

I hugged her and we both cried.

We were trained to hide our weaknesses and show - sometimes, promote or publicize - the best (strongest) version of ourselves. We end up showing the world the version of ourselves we actually like, rather than the full picture of who we are.

For some, positivity has been essential to coping with their difficulties and suffering. But this unrelenting optimism paints "negative" emotions as a failure or weakness.

Research shows that failing to acknowledge hardships can have a detrimental effect on our mental health. Instead, suppressing uncomfortable emotions can actually make us feel worse. Positivity and happiness are compulsively pushed, imperative. Whereas authentic human emotional experiences are denied, minimized, or invalidated.

As Freud brilliantly said: “Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.” When we accept that life comes with difficulties, we can also accept that “out of our vulnerabilities will come our strength” (Freud, again).

Showing our vulnerabilities can be an act of courage, empathy and kindness. I hope we can all be able - and available - to support our loved ones in difficult times..

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