You have probably noticed more conversations around mental health in the media and on social media streams this week. That’s because May is Mental Health Awareness month – and all month (particularly the week of May 10th to 16th in the UK) people are raising funds to support mental health across the UK, and raising awareness with honest, open conversations around the mental health challenges we all face.
There are times when it seems like speaking about mental health is a bit trendy, and buzzwords fly around as people remind each other to be kind, to be mindful and to focus on their positives – but I’ve noticed, especially speaking with clients, that this relentless positivity can actually become very toxic too.
Toxic positivity seems like a contradiction; how can being positive be bad?
Let’s dive into that; what do I mean by toxic positivity?
It is the belief that people should put a positive spin on all experiences, even those that are profoundly tragic. Toxic positivity can silence negative emotions, demean grief, and make people feel under pressure to pretend to be happy even when they are struggling. In some cases, it may be self-imposed.
Medical News Today, March 2021
Basically, in pushing people to ‘find the silver lining’ in everything, it doesn’t allow us to grieve. To process. To experience and work through pain.
In truth, the only way to truly grow and move past trauma, anxiety and negative experiences is to move through them. Not to skirt them, to bury them, to dismiss them with ‘look on the bright side’ or to cancel them out with ‘focus on the positive things in your life’ – because in reality, the one cannot and does not cancel out the other.
In a month when we are being more open and raising awareness of mental health issues it’s vitally important to recognise that we have all been facing challenges. That we have all been living with stress, worry, fear. That many have lost people – lost loved ones or colleagues or neighbours. That our lives changed shape. That, since this time last year, life is not the way it was. And that it’s ok to say that absolutely sucks. It’s crap. It’s painful, difficult, utter rubbish.
We don’t have to just accept that it is different without feeling all of our feelings about that.
Living through historical events means we have stories to tell; stories which shape us. It means that, in years to come, those who follow us will have questions and we will know the answers, because we were there.
But right now we are here – and here isn’t always that great.
So please, when someone speaks to you about that, when someone opens up to you, when someone is vulnerable and trying to voice that vulnerability, bite back the temptation to smile and tell them to look on the bright side. Don’t brush off their feelings and point them at happiness. Don’t fall into the toxic positivity trap of always looking for a reason, a solution, a positive slant or something happy to distract from the pain.
Of course it’s important not to wallow – to move through into acceptance and happiness. But it’s just as important to acknowledge the hurt you might feel, to experience it and to understand what the hurt is for, and from, and how you work with it to heal.
There are so many ways to speak about your mental health; support groups, supportive friends and family, social media where you can perhaps find others who feel the same and speak with them about your shared experiences. It isn’t something we need to face alone, isolated with our pain.
But please don’t feel guilty for seeing the dark side. Don’t berate people, or respond with “others have had it worse” because all that does is add more difficulty onto the already heavy burden some are carrying, and make someone who is vulnerable feel guilty for feeling that way.
If you are looking for somewhere to speak about that burden, and to truly work through your hurt, to understand the root cause of the challenges you’re facing and your own behaviour in response to those challenges, and you’re ready to work through your experiences, you can contact me through this website, through Facebook, LinkedIn or email on firstname.lastname@example.org, or call me on 07849 037095 – you can also message or call via WhatsApp on the same number, and I offer video sessions for those who are still unable to meet in person.