Toxic Positivity & Learning to Transcend Your Pain

In our pretend-positivity washed society, a good chunk of time tested logic has been cast aside. Everything human that used to be normal and encouraged is now vilified. More than anything else, there’s a pervasive, dismissive, shallow and illogical approach to existence that’s best summed up as Toxic Positivity. Just lost your job and feel down? No time for that, don’t process whatever happened, just slap on a smile and you’ll eventually feel happy. To hell with all the arduous internal work of actually finding strengths through your experiences.

While positivity has its place, we’re robbing ourselves of the chance to actually experience the full spectrum of what it means to be alive and mature adults. Moreover, we’re actually stunting our emotional growth. If you’re constantly chugging down your real emotions in favour of an illusion, you don’t give yourself a chance to actually overcome the pain and turmoil. Like an untreated wound, it’ll eventually fester and cause much more harm. Perhaps for a while, you might not feel the corrosive effects of this habit. But over time, the compounded avoidance will add up, and sooner or later it will find an outlet.

Your Pain Demands to Be Felt

We are healed of a suffering only by experiencing it to the full.

– Marcel Proust

Ever heard of the young artist who got rejected from a prestigious art school, then went on to try dominating the world and got over 6 million Jews killed? Well suffice it to say, that when people push down their negative feelings, whether those are feelings of inadequacy or rejection they tend to find the strangest ways to make up for the difference. Like say, becoming alcoholics or drug abusers and taking it out on their families. Or finding other healthy avenues like politics, for instance, to spread their self-hatred into the world.

It is far better to confront such feelings and come to terms with them, then to let them fester in the background, to a point where they exceed our capacity to tame or overcome them. Our pain needs to be felt, to be heard and acknowledged. Until it is, it’ll keep scratching the walls of its cell, allying itself to other pains and they’ll dig their way to expression eventually. All while, just taking some time (daily or weekly) to process our sorrows could have prevented much heartache.

The idea that positivity can dispel all of our woes, while well-meaning, can foster the delusion that all pain is bad and to be avoided. Of course, no one enjoys feeling pain. Well, some do but that’s a different topic. Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for pushing through hardships by seeing the bright side of life and taking comfort in it. Of course, attempting to feel every bit of pain may prove tiresome after a while. But putting on airs of positivity is a poor strategy for a host of hardships, like losing a loved one, for instance or giving up on a long held dream. Those are experiences we need to come to terms with by going through them. Those are experiences that define life, that give our mortal lives their collective defining characteristics.

The avoidance of mourning a loved one’s passing, can eventually numb us or manifest other psychological anomalies. Then warranting a visit to the therapist, for issues that could have very well been dealt with, had we just been brave enough to experience their full breadth. I’m sure that by now you can see how the advice of “just be positive” may not do justice to the richness of the human experience.

It is immature to expect to never feel any pain in life. To put a bandaid over certain facets of our existence that aren’t motivational speech material. To be so detached that one no longer feels connected to one’s own experiences or glosses over the deeper meanings of even undesired circumstances or outcomes, is cowardice.

Pain can be an opportunity to test our mettle, to discover who we are in the absence of good days and that is often a trigger for personal growth. Some pain never goes away, and one needs to learn how to endure or transcend it to some degree. In some cases having some philosophical leanings or spiritual beliefs helps interpret events in our life, as much as our limited human minds possible can. The loss of a loved one, a mother, a father or a spouse. These are things that one never really “gets over” and has to come to terms with by learning to continue living with the loss. In some cases, that’s the only way you can begin healing.

When my grandmother passed away, I don’t think I ever felt such intense pain all at once. It felt like a deluge. I remembered the last time I saw her. The emotions were overwhelming and it felt like a knife had been plunged in my heart. For some time that night, I sat in the dark and reminisced. I remembered how she held my hand the last time I saw her. I’d remember days on her veranda, just sitting as I tried to make her laugh. My mind oscillated between some of the happy memories and the pain of having lost her. All my dreams for things I’d do for her, had come to naught. For a while the regret of not having done enough and no longer having a chance to haunted me. But, I began taking time to think and let myself feel what needed to be felt. Overtime, it became easier and many lessons emerged from the experience.

I believe that it was because I allowed myself to fully accept the reality of her passing that I eventually made my piece with it. My personal woes aside, I believe that this applies to every challenging period in life. That goes for failing a project that meant the world to us, losing the love our lives….etc. The only way to get through hard times is really by getting through them. Not by running away from them, pretending they aren’t happening or haven’t happened.

We have to hold on to the light without reducing the significance of the darker sides of life. Both sides make our stories whole, and dealing with them allows us to tap into all the lessons our unique experiences offers.

Eventually, if we don’t overcome our pain, if it is such that we can only co-exist with it, while that is far harder than transcending it, it will become easier. You wake up one day and you stop feeling the heaviness, it might still be there, but it’ll be bearable. Through the cloud partings, rays of light will find you and those memories which you shared with the loved one, you shall become their custodian. A living embalmment of those sacred memories.

Yet, when we refuse to acknowledge and process the pain, we tend to distort those memories, tainting them with the pain. We try to diminish their value by lessening the impact of our loss. I don’t mean that you necessarily need to make it a spectacle or a public affair. This process can be handled by some alone but if that’s how you need to process your pain then by all means do so. If you need a shoulder to cry on, or a sympathetic ear, I hope you will always find one strong enough to be there for you. Otherwise, consider therapy, it could always help a little.

Letting Go

While, this article advocates learning to embrace pain, rather than the toxic culture or false positivity. The main aim is to eventually, transcend the pain. To be able to return to a state of internal equilibrium. There isn’t a single soul on earth that has never known pain, or will never know it. We’re all on that boat, although we experience varying degrees of the darned thing. One must learn to embrace this and find whatever meaning one may from it, and once we’ve gone through this process we need to let go. Having seized it in our hands and contemplated what it means, making it our own, we need to open our palms and let the wind blow it away. That’s what being truly strong means, not pushing it all down a dark seething cauldron of unresolved issues and sitting on a powder keg.

Find it in yourself, once you’ve given your pain its time to be heard, to let it go and accept its lessons if there be any worth surmising. However long this process takes is ultimately up to you, there is no timeline for healing. Nor should you feel obligated to follow any programme that does not suit you. If it takes you a year or a decade to fully heal then that’s the time you needed. So long as you resolve it satisfactorily enough to be able to let it go, once and for all.

According to this article by Psychology Today, being able to let go of our emotional baggage or pain could have the pleasant effect of ridding us of many of the attendant physical tensions. Headaches, persistent tensions in the body and the like tend to disappear once we release the psychological anchor behind them. Moreover, sleep and motivation also improve.

You see, the baggage in our past is just that, a burden that we can choose to lug around to our detriment or release to allow us to live. Loss, pain, regret they all funder under this umbrella. Even the death of a loved one, has to eventually be accepted and while we may still mourn them in our hearts, we must eventually learn to let them go. Carrying pain like an eternal burden is not a healthy habit.

Follow Your Own Rhythm

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

As I’ve said before, don’t feel obligated to follow any pre-established pattern. You don’t need to go through the five stages of grief, as though it were a well ordered choreography. We do not all grieve the same. Some need longer to really process their feelings. In the end, all that matters is that we reach the point where we can let it all go, with little to no residual trauma. The whole point of diving headfirst into our emotions is to come out stronger on the other end.

Each individual’s life comes with its own rhythms. While the general experience is more or less the same. We all shall one day be lost to someone who loves us and we all shall one day lose someone whom we love. That among many other realities that we all try to avoid accepting, is unavoidable. But I believe that this entire hodgepodge enriches the human experience. The joys, and transcendent realisations, the regrets, the lost loves, the attachments that end up defining us and those triumphs and failures that make even the least heroic lives dramatic and inspirational adventures to behold.

A one dimensional existence is indeed a poor one. The human experience transcends the physical, there is an entire world of intangibles and unseen events that are occurring within us. Grief that would turn heaven blue with sorrow, joys that bring light and lift us out of any metaphorical hell, realisations that can transform our outlook and experience of the world overnight. We are all born with those doors within us, but we must be….

BRAVE ENOUGH TO FACE OUR INNER WORLD.

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