Perhaps always trying to look on the bright side does more harm than good
Everyone knows the sequel is never as good as the original. And so it is with lockdown 2.0 – this time it’s colder, darker and more boring!
The first time around there was at least some novelty to hunkering down (remember how excited we all got about banana bread?), now it’s getting harder to find the positives. But maybe we don’t have to.
Perhaps always trying to look on the bright side does more harm than good? Around the start of lockdown (the original), I was speaking to a friend on Houseparty (again, remember that?).
Her husband was potentially being made redundant. “I’m sure he’ll be fine,” I told her. “And at least your job is secure.”
As soon as we got off the call, I felt bad. Why had I been so quick to reassure her everything would be rosy? Why couldn’t I have just listened and let her talk through her worries?
Psychologists have a phrase for relentlessly trying to find the silver lining – it’s known as “toxic positivity”. It’s there every time I tell myself: “Oh well, it could be worse.”
It’s when we ignore reality and insist on pushing for happiness, and in doing so end up minimising or invalidating all those other emotions that we find a bit more bleurgh. After giving birth, I found myself on the receiving end of toxic positivity.
Although I felt pretty traumatised by what I’d been through, a lot of people told me I should just be grateful that I had a healthy baby, and I should be glad – proud even – that I’d done it drug-free, as if leaving it too late to beg for an epidural was a badge of honour and not one of the biggest mistakes of my life.
'PUSH NEGATIVE EMOTIONS ASIDE'
I’ve no doubt they were trying to cheer me up, but their reaction made me feel like there was no room for me to talk about how I felt. It was as if they wanted me to push my negative emotions aside and just keep calm and carry on doing pelvic floor exercises.
There’s an idea that happiness should be our default state, or at least something we should all aspire to, all of the time. Self-help books have taught us that we can “manifest” our way to a better life by thinking more positively.
But real life doesn’t work like that, and in fact our negative emotions are useful sometimes. It’s our anxiety that alerts us to possible danger, our jealousy that motivates us to change things in our life, our loneliness that encourages us to reach out to people.
All these negative emotions are valid.
Many different studies have shown that suppressing our real feelings is not good for our mental or physical wellbeing. What’s more, when people who have low self-esteem are forced to repeat positive “affirmations” they feel worse.
Bereaved people who try not to feel their grief also take longer to recover. Right now the news is bleak, and there’s no point trying to sugarcoat it. Sometimes it’s not only OK to not be OK, it’s actually essential.
I’m sad that my friends and family haven’t been able to meet my daughter. I’m frightened about what the future looks like. I’m angry that this all feels relentless. I’m hungry because I still don’t know how to bake banana bread (or anything, really).
Equally, if you’re loving lockdown or have found that repeating: “It’s only four weeks” to yourself on a loop helps, then that’s fine.
But spare me the good-vibes-only attitude. There’s room for the not-so-good ones, too.
- Follow Kate on Instagram @katewillswrites.
This week I’m…
Watching… The Queen’s Gambit
My inner geek is loving this chess-themed Netflix drama starring Anya Taylor-Joy.
Loving… Sound Sleep Cocoon
Dermalogica’s first night cream comes with an app of sleep sounds to help you nod off.
Snuggling… in Pantherella
Affordable cashmere socks you can get monogrammed? Yes, please!
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