Updated: May 3
In 2014, I thought smiling to hide the pain was mandatory.
Fake it till you make it.
Only to realize that that motto doesn’t work while you are trying to survive.
Just keep smiling.
It could be worse.
Just be positive.
Stop being so negative.
Good vibes only.
You have heard these too, right? These are just a few of the thoughts that would take over my head anytime that I thought anything but rainbows and sunshine in my life. Thinking that if I allowed anything negative to enter my train of thought, I was dooming myself to a lifetime of failure and disappointment. Such an impossible standard to live up to.
I was a master at hiding my emotions. Putting on that smile to pretend that my life was perfect. Smiling was my way of numbing the pain. No one would ever know that inside, I was a mess. But smile.
Smiling is all I had to do and the world would be a better place. Right?
My world was not a better place. My world was crumbling and breaking in places that I couldn’t hold together anymore. It took a young psychologist to wake me up and realize that what I was doing was going to destroy my life.
THE IDEA OF TOXIC POSITIVITY
Are you shaking your head and wondering how positivity can be toxic? I never would have thought that would have been a real thing until I lived it. Until I walked into a psychologist’s office, unable to control the tears while my newborn was in her car seat.
This young man changed how I viewed my emotions. A man who was still in school to get his masters degree while I was a mama to three kids including the newborn that was in the room with us, sleeping in her car seat.
I was embarrassed to be there. I mean I was already a seasoned mom with parenting two children until my belt. Bringing a third into the dynamic couldn’t be that bad. I was ready for anything UNTIL I wasn’t.
I don’t remember anything else from our session except for these words that he said to me,
“Your children need to see you break down. They need to know that you are not Superwoman.”
I remember the uncontrollable tears that I let fall that day. A feeling of complete despair and letting down my family. Those words began to bore a hole deep inside of me. They started to show me what harm I was really doing to myself by hiding behind a fake smile. A smile that allowed me to hide who I was from those closest to me for years.
So what is toxic positivity?
Toxic positivity is defined as the assumption, either by one’s self or others, that despite a person’s emotional pain or difficult situation, they should only have a positive mindset. Definition by Dr. Jaime Zuckerman
LEARNING HOW TO THRIVE IN YOUR EMOTIONS
The past 6 years of my life have felt like a constant change to how I embrace my emotions. The stages of embracing my emotions have been…
STEP ONE| HIDE THEM.
STEP TWO| FEEL ALL OF THEM.
STEP 3| GET ANGRY AT ALL OF THEM.
STEP FOUR| HIDE THEM AGAIN BECAUSE IT HURTS TO FEEL THEM.
STEP FIVE| FOCUS ON FEELING THE STRONGEST ONE.
STEP SIX| WRITE THEM OUT.
STEP SEVEN| MEDITATE ON THEM.
STEP EIGHT| JOURNAL ON THE THOUGHTS THAT COME IN FROM MEDITATING ON THEM.
STEP NINE| EMBRACE THEM.
STEP TEN| QUESTION THEM.
STEP ELEVEN| LEARN FROM THEM.
These steps are similar to the stages of grief. Each step lasts a different amount of time and sometimes I hop to and from each step. I really want to focus on these steps because these are the steps that are going to help you learn to thrive with your emotions and throw out the idea of having to be positive all of the time.
This is what you want to stop doing. I truly thought that in order to succeed and have a positive life, I needed to be happy all the time. That having a negative thought or an emotion that I construed as being negative meant that I was not a positive person. I couldn’t be happy while also feeling sad, lonely, unworthy. I needed to hide all of those in order to be truly happy.
That is just not true. What happens is when you hide something, it normally begins to fester. Just like when you pretend to be someone that you are not, people will begin to notice and think of you as fake when all you are really trying to do is fit in. You don’t need to fit in, just like you don’t need to be happy all the time. Starting today, I want you to stop this. Stop hiding the pain. Stop hiding the anger. Stop hiding the sadness. Stop hiding all the emotions that you think you need to because you don’t.
Feel all of them.
Oh, this was a big one. Once I gave myself permission to feel my emotions, I felt every single one and couldn’t cope. I know what depression feels like and I was right back in that place. The place of darkness and overwhelm. When I couldn’t manage to get myself out of bed because I was so confused by everything that I was feeling.
You are going to have the days when you feel and go through every emotion you think you have ever felt. That is part of the human experience. You just don’t want to get stuck here because you will quickly realize that it is much easier to put on the fake smile than it is to deal with all of this at once.
Get angry at all of them.
Anger showed up. I was angry at myself for allowing these emotions to stay hidden. I was angry at myself for not hiding the emotions. Seriously, anger had me running around like a confused chicken and that just made me want to hide all of those emotions again. Embrace the anger when it comes because it will.
Hide them again because it hurts to feel them.
At the beginning of this process, you are going to find yourself going back to ways that served you in the past. We get comfortable being where we are. We allow fear to dictate truly knowing ourselves and feeling all the emotions.
Hiding the emotions is a way for you to cope. It is why we are stuck. I believe that this is the stage that you will hit multiple times for multiple different emotions that you are feeling. Don’t get stuck here because if you do, you will be stuck with the fake smile for longer than you want to be.
Focus on feeling the strongest one.
This is a great starting point when you begin to focus on feeling something other than happiness. Focus on the emotion that is coming out the strongest for you. That will be different for everyone and it will depend on your current situation and your past.
I say to focus on the strongest one first because it is showing up and you are noticing it easier than one that isn’t as strong. This will give you practice on how to show up for yourself when it comes to the emotions that are less powerful.
Write them out.
This is such an important part of the process. This allows you to give a name to ALL the things that you feel. This allows you to open up to the possibility of embracing all of these emotions. By knowing what you are feeling, you can better equip yourself with how to handle the next few steps.
Meditate on them.
Oh, how meditation has come into my life and created a lasting change that I never expected. Of course, I had heard of all the benefits of meditation before, as I am sure you have to but to truly experience the changes is remarkable. Meditation allows me to stop. All-day long I am constantly on the go. Between children, home, business, husband and everything in between, my brain rarely has a second to just be.
Meditation gives me this time. It allows me to just see what is coming into my head. It allows me to distinguish between the thoughts that I need to pay attention to and the thoughts that I can just let float away. It also allows me to distinguish between what thoughts I am getting from others versus what I AM feeling.
Another benefit of meditation is that it allows me to process those feelings that I wrote down in the step above. It can give me the why of those emotions, the how of fixing those emotions and create a deeper meaning as to why those emotions are coming into my life.
Journaling the thoughts down.
I better understand myself when I can write my thoughts down and out onto paper. Sometimes I really don’t know how to interpret what I am feeling until I begin to write it out. There are days when the words just pour out of me and then there are days when trying to find the right words to fill the page with doesn’t happen.
If you struggle with just free journaling, there are many different options for you to use when it comes to doing it. You can…
Create an art journal.
Create a bullet journal.
Use a journal prompt to help get you started with writing.
A few really great journal prompts to use when trying to dig deep into your emotions are:
If I could write a forgiveness letter to my younger self, what would it say?
Which negative behaviour do I have that I continue to do over and over again despite knowing how I feel?
Beyond feeling (insert emotion), what is truly behind these feelings?
What is draining my energy in my current life?
What past event is draining energy in my current life?
What are the ways that I can begin to accept where I am currently?
What are the coping mechanisms that are currently working in my life and which ones are not serving me?
How do I want to feel in my life?
Embrace the emotions.
This is a critical part of helping you to remove the role that toxic positivity plays in your life. You need to embrace the emotions that you are feeling on a day to day basis. By not only acknowledging how you feel but truly embracing them, you are giving yourself the best chance to love who you are and to work through the shadows that keep showing up in your life. Learning what these emotions are and how they are serving you is going to be how you can begin to assess and move past the emotions.
Question the emotions.
I think we have all been around children who are in the why phase of their development. They can soon drive you crazy with one simple word. I want you to go back to that word and start using it with your emotions.
Why are you feeling the way you are?
Why am I reacting to this feeling the way that I do?
Why? Why? Why?
Most of the time, it isn’t the emotion that you are feeling that is the root cause. There is something deeper than what you are feeling on the surface. By embracing the surface emotion, you are making it safe for yourself to release what you are feeling further underneath.
Learn from them.
Every step of this process is important but this is the one that is going to allow you to truly heal. By learning from the emotions that you are trying to uncover and embrace, you can better handle them when they resurface.
Toxic positivity is a protective shield. It is making you feel safe and warm all while slowly destroying who you are on the inside. It is better to be real and feel all the emotions than to be fake and hide every emotion that feels negative.
Are you ready to step into your emotions and take control of your healing? I would love to help you through 1 on 1 coaching to help you learn how to use blogging to help you through your healing journey.