If you’ve gone through an upsetting event (which all of us have), you’ve likely reached out to someone just to hear “Things will get better” or “Stay positive! Everything will be fine”. While our friends and family may mean well, these phrases may do little to help us actually recover from painful events in our lives. American society has focused primarily on positivity to help us get through troubling times. On surface level, positivity seems to be something that only a few key people can exert in nearly any situation. If you’re feeling envious of those with a seemingly endless supply of positivity, don’t be discouraged. In fact, positivity isn’t as healthy as it may seem – it can actually be quite damaging. How so? Let’s investigate.
The expectation that we should always strive to be positive, no matter the circumstance, places a great deal of shame on those of us who do not automatically react that way. Put simply, if you’re feeling sad or angry about a situation, you should certainly feel those emotions. A 2012 study conducted at the University of Queensland found that when individuals thought others expected them to not feel negative emotions, they ended up feeling even more negative emotions. Clearly, positivity isn’t always producing positive outcomes.
Positivity can unhinge us from reality if taken out of proportion. University of Michigan psychologist Christopher Peterson, a founder of the positive psychology movement, explained in his 2000 article that there are two kinds of positivity: realistic optimism and unrealistic optimism. Individuals with realistic optimism have hope for the future while staying attuned to potential threats – those with unrealistic optimism ignore potential threats. Thus, positivity when taken to extreme can cause us to under – or over – estimate the reality of our situation.
What should be done instead of responding positively to events that don’t go the way we’d like for them to? Real emotions should be expressed and felt, to allow ourselves to process. We should not hold our emotions back, because studies have shown that suppressing emotions can lead to memory loss, high blood pressure, increased risk of diabetes and heart disease, and even more physical stress on the body. We can be positive, but for our mental health, we should first allow ourselves to feel the pain from upsetting events so that we can accept them and move forward.
Therapy is a primary component of treatment for rehabilitation from a substance use disorder and/or mental health disorder. Attending treatment with certified clinicians and counselors is critical for a full recovery. At one of New Vista Behavioral Health’s treatment providers, you are receiving exceptional care, held to a higher standard. Our programs result in better outcomes, ensuring a better recovery. For information call us today: 888-316-3665.