Reinforcing only positivity whilst denying negative emotions turns into a toxic loop.
Positivity is a booming industry. Libraries are filled with thousands of books praising it, social media is flooded with optimism, and self-help gurus have built empires upon teaching people how to cheer up regardless of the circumstances.
Yet, deep down we know that positivity isn’t always the proper answer. All sunshine makes a desert, and we need some rain to cultivate a healthy life. Besides, sometimes, life really sucks, and it’s unnatural to feel all hyped about it.
The Positivity Denial Trap
Numbing my negative feelings brings even worse feelings. In hindsight, it made perfect sense since denying my negative emotions was the best way to dismiss why emotions existed in the first place.
Emotions are biological signals sent by our brains as feedback to nudge us in the right direction.
You could picture them as the nervous system of the mind.
When we touch fire, it burns. Consequently, our nervous system forces us to withdraw our hands. When we eat a banana, its sweetness makes us feel energy running through our body before even digesting the fruit.
Our nervous system sends us signals to encourage or discourage us from whatever we are doing.
Similarly, the pain we feel after a breakup is a signal to stop the behaviours that led us there. The satisfaction we derive from doing an excellent job is a validation signal to continue. The first feedback deters us via lousy moods; the second stimulates us with joyful vibrations.
When I felt defeated by my poor writing, my brain keeps telling me, “You’re doing something wrong; you should stop.” Instead of listening, I ignored the warning and insisted on keeping my hand in the fire until it turned to ashes.
Just like that, I was back to square one. From there, no matter how I try to project positivity, I couldn’t break out of this inferno-cycle.
I call it the inferno-cycle because it burns harder every time.
We feel bad about something, so we deny the feelings that arise from it. But that something doesn’t go away just because we’ve managed to stun our senses.
As a result, when we face the problem again, our negative emotions come back stronger. And this time we’ll need even more positivity and prettier lies to numb them.
From that moment onward, the loop repeats itself until we break and give up.
We don’t draw happiness and positivity from feeling good, beautiful, or successful. Our positivity and happy emotions come from dealing with our problems, accepting responsibility, and undertaking challenges.
We picture happiness as an aim while it’s merely a by-product of dealing with the troubles life throws at us.
Ask yourself, when was the last time you felt thrilled? Take a moment to reflect, and you’ll find that it came from solving some form of a problem that had to do with a specific situation or the way you feel about yourself — sometimes both.
For instance, starting a family solves the problem of being alone and makes you feel loved. Professional success solves money problems and boosts self-image and vacations deal with physical and mental tiredness while providing excitement.
The list goes on revealing the same equation: we feel happy because we solve problems.
Thus, if we want to be happy, we need problems. Yet, we do everything in our power to rob ourselves from the one thing that spots them for us: negative feelings.
If you act on your problems, chances are, you’ll feel better, happier. In contrast, if you ignore your feelings, you won’t identify the problem, and if you can’t see the problem, you can’t solve it.
Again, to be happy and feel good, we need problems, and to spot the latter, we need to embrace our negative feelings. Yet, we force ourselves to bury those under endless layers of artificial positiveness.
I don’t have the exact recipe for a happy life, but I know that it doesn’t solely consist of positivity.
As counterintuitive as it may sound, acknowledging our negative emotions leads us to genuine positive ones. In fact, once we take action, we start to feel better, and the ultimate satisfaction comes from solving the issue — happiness is about solving problems, remember?
Mark Manson said:
“The desire for a positive experience is a bad experience. Accepting a negative experience is a positive experience.”
Now, replace “experience” with “emotion” and read that again.