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STRONGER TOGETHER: ‘I can’t find the silver lining’ – is remaining optimistic the answer?

Last updated: 02/08/2022
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"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses toxic positivity and optimism.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Times are challenging and people are struggling to stay optimistic. If you feel like this, it’s completely understandable. Rising interest rates, the cost of living and the latest COVID wave have people feeling flat and anxious.

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Is optimism the antidote?           

We all know those ‘glass half-full’ optimists. People telling us everything happens for a reason, or we should focus on what we have instead of what we have lost.

There’s enormous pressure to put on a brave face and convince others (and themselves) that everything is ‘great’. People put on their ‘I’m an optimist’ mask and make it their mission to urge others to ‘think positive’ and be grateful for what they have, even in the face of adversity and when it’s evident they’re struggling.

There’s plenty of evidence-based research highlighting the benefits of optimism, positive thinking, and how it can inspire hope for ‘finding the silver lining’. But the reality is we are humans, not robots.

We experience emotions and we have bad days.

And that’s okay.

What’s not okay, is when we start to invalidate our own or another person’s feelings. By definition, ‘invalidation is the process of denying, rejecting or dismissing someone’s feelings’.

This can occur in a variety of ways, many of which are well-intentioned. ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’, ‘you shouldn’t feel that way’, ‘try not to think about it’ or ‘it could be worse’ are all different ways people commonly and unintentionally send a message to another person that their feelings aren’t justified or appropriate.

While the intention may be to uplift someone, failing to acknowledge your own emotions or dismissing the feelings of others through toxic positivity sits at the core of invalidation.

This doesn’t mean we can’t show gratitude for what we have. It does however serve as a reminder that sometimes we just need to have some compassion for ourselves and what others might be going through.

Sometimes listening is enough. No pressure to fix anything, just offering a friendly ear and providing support is often all that is needed.

Focusing on positive emotions only is unrealistic and erodes our ability to communicate how we are really feeling.

Finding a silver lining can still be achieved while avoiding toxic positivity. The key is recognising that negative feelings and emotions are a normal part of life, and naming and recognising them is far more valuable than encouraging people to put on a brave face and stuff them away.

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