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Toxic Positivity Vs. True Optimism

This is a topic that I feel is SO important, especially for friends and family members of people dealing with any kind of mental illness or health condition. Social media is full of statements like:

“Good vibes only.”

“Just be positive.”

“Other people have it so much worse.”

“You’ll get over it.”

“Get rid of toxic people.”

“Just have more faith.”

Honestly, as someone who has battled with OCD, anxiety, panic attacks, and intense health issues, I can say that it’s just not reasonable to ask some people to “Just get over it.”

Not to mention, shutting them out of your life because they’re not a ball of sunshine 24/7 will only make things worse. Don’t you think they would prefer to be happier too?

So, what can you do to be more optimistic and positive while ditching the “toxic positivity” that we see so often? Here are some common phrases dissected and changed into real, honest, optimism. Remember, you don’t have to be perfect all the time, and you can always ask forgiveness and start again. However, it’s good to recognize how your words might be affecting someone struggling with mental health.

Instead of saying: “Being negative won’t help you”

try something like: “It’s good to acknowledge your feelings and let it out. Is there something I can do to help you right now?”

This is more helpful because we all know that negative feelings are a part of life. There needs to be space to experience those feelings, express them (without harming self or others), and move through them. Nothing feels worse than feeling bad for feeling bad.

If you notice a loved one staying in their negativity, you might suggest an activity that will distract them. Something simple, even sharing a cup of hot cocoa or watching a TV show together can help.

Let’s try another one…

“Good vibes only.” I hate this. There is no one alive who ALWAYS has “good vibes”. We shouldn’t expect that of ourselves or others. Life is hard! Bad vibes just come with the territory!

So, instead of saying this, try: “I love you through all of your emotional states.” Imagine if your loved ones only wanted to spend time with you when you were happy. Wouldn’t that make you feel terrible? Now imagine that it’s difficult for you to EVER be happy… wouldn’t you just wish for someone to care about you no matter what?

Last one…

“Just have more faith.” or “Just pray more.”

I hate this one because it suggests that our struggles somehow are our fault for not being spiritual enough. I know a lot of people said this to me over the years.

God doesn’t send us hard times because we’re not doing “good enough”. Struggle is a part of life, and it’s a part of God’s plan for us. It brings us closer to Him because we realize that we can’t do it alone. God never intended life to be easy breezy all the time, and He doesn’t expect us to be irrationally happy all the time either.

So, what can we say instead? Try: “God loves you no matter what.” Nothing could be more important or more true!

Just as an ending note, I’d like to encourage anyone who is having a hard time or caring for someone who is. Remember to take care of yourself too. I also think it’s important to ask this question: “What if I want to show love for someone who is struggling, but it’s really hard on me too?”

At this point, you might consider withdrawing completely and focusing on yourself. This might be necessary at times, but not always.

Maybe you’re not sure what to say, or talking about their struggle triggers some of your own difficulties. You might try saying something like: “It’s really hard for me to talk about this, but I want to be here for you. Could we try talking about something else?” Often, just your being there is enough. You don’t have to be their therapist as well.

You might know someone who gets sucked into such a dark hole that you end up there as well. This is when it can be helpful to offer distracting activities or lighthearted fun. You might find other ways to reach out to this person like writing emails, text messages, or dropping something off at their door. This way, you can still be there for them.

Bottom line is this: We all need each other. We need people to support us no matter what. We need love, especially in the worst times.

If you’d like more help dealing with mental health or other health concerns, feel free to reach out to me. I offer free consultation calls, which you can schedule here!

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