WHEN THERE IS NO SILVER LINING:
How to Avoid Toxic Positivity
Emotional Health Editor
Maureen Pollard, MSW, RSW is a registered social worker with a private practice in Cobourg, Ontario. Visit her online at: maureenpollardmsw.com
Humans go through some pretty terrible experiences. Tragic death. Trauma. Horrific events. When this happens, it’s normal to go through a wide range of complex feelings as you try to adapt to life in the aftermath of such experiences. It can feel confusing and hurtful when people respond by telling you to just think positively and to look for the "silver linings".
Toxic positivity happens when someone has trouble hearing your heartbreaking stories and demands that you focus on the good things in your life instead. This type of response is often an attempt to hurry you through the difficult times because your pain makes someone else uncomfortable. It can silence you, leaving you feeling alone and ashamed.
While it’s true that really difficult experiences exist alongside more positive aspects of life, sometimes you just need time to feel the pain of real hardships. When we allow ourselves to feel the complexity of our true feelings, we can begin to heal.
"Life is beautiful, but it is also tragic. Hold this truth. Create space for both joy and pain on your unique journey and in the lives of others around you as you move toward healing."
How to Handle Feelings for Healing:
Notice and acknowledge how you feel. Give yourself permission for all of it – the hard and the easy. All of your feelings are valid.
Explore and express your true feelings. It can help to talk to someone you trust; someone who can accept your experience and go at a pace that feels comfortable for you. Another way to heal is in the creation of art that reflects your inner journey using activities like writing, painting, music, dance or sculpture.
Trust yourself to hold both the pain of your experience and hope for healing. When you give yourself grace in difficult times, you can find your way to realistic optimism. This could be considered finding the silver lining, but what it really means is that you’ve adapted to your experience and have found a way to have purpose and meaning in your life despite the pain.
Take your time. It’s true that others will encourage you to “get over it”. You can only come through pain to healing at your own pace and in your own way. It often takes more time than you expect to recover from tragedy, and even when you find ways to heal, you carry the scars of trauma throughout life. This is part of your story now, so no one needs to hurry you through the process of learning to carry it.
When Someone Is In Pain:
Accept and acknowledge their experience without trying to make things better.
Reassure them that what they are feeling is a normal response to abnormal circumstances.
Get comfortable with silence. Don’t try to respond to every statement; just listen.
Remember, your presence as a witness to their pain is often enough to help with healing.
Life is beautiful, but it is also tragic. Hold this truth. Create space for both joy and pain on your unique journey and in the lives of others around you as you move toward healing.