When Being Positive Can Hurt You and What To Do About It

Rose Colored Glasses

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

While confiding in a friend one day, I mentioned how I’d been feeling a little blue.

“Snap out of it,” he said, matter-of-factly.

While this wasn’t the first time I’d received advice like this, or heard someone else being on the receiving end of the likes of it, it still left me feeling as if there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t just snap out of it.

He went on: “You’ve just got to be positive.”

If only it was that easy to turn off that negativity switch in your head permanently, and dial up the one labeled “sunshine and rainbows” to 24/7.

Let’s get real here: For someone who’s struggling with challenging circumstances like depression, heartbreak, or even major self-doubt, and isn’t ready to put on the rose-tinted glasses just yet, pretending to be positive isn’t going to work (nor is it healthy).

Forcing yourself to jump on the positivity bandwagon when you really feel like crawling into a cave may even create more feelings of confusion and disconnectedness (I’ve been there, done that), and distract you from the things you should be doing to get better.

Instead of trying to sweep difficult feelings under the rug and put on an upbeat front, here’s what you can do to make them work for you:

Be okay with feeling sad and asking for help.

Sometimes, life does feels like crap.

It’s okay to feel that way—life doesn’t have to feel happy, positive, and easy all the time. I’m not asking you to wallow in self-indulgent pity indefinitely, but to be present with this emotion, giving yourself time to experience and respect it.

It’s also fine to be okay with the fact that that cheesy, motivational poster your friend emailed to you isn’t making it all better. You don’t need to feel guilty or embarrassed about not connecting with someone else’s way of coping with the hard stuff.

In fact, the “negative” emotions you experience are just as important as the positive ones in helping you cope with life’s ups and downs because they give you vital clues about what’s going on in your life, as well as help you evaluate and give meaning to your circumstances.

Often, these emotions point to the fact that something needs to be fixed, and while not every difficult situation has a straightforward solution, what you can do get through this time is to ask for help.

Take this opportunity to reach out to the people who are important to you—allowing yourself to be vulnerable to someone you care about will also give them permission to help and feel more deeply connected to you.

Make self-compassion a part of your life.

When I’m running low on my positivity reserves, one thing I find helpful with coping is to give myself compassion. This doesn’t mean skating over painful conflicts or letting myself off the hook when I make a mistake; it means that I:

  • Review my actions and acknowledge why I chose to act a certain way after I’ve made a mistake instead of being harsh and judgmental (“you reacted this way because you were feeling hurt” versus “you’re such a loser”).
  • Accept that I’m not perfect after an unexpected binge, examine why it happened, and choose to make a healthier choice at my next meal instead of giving up on eating healthily altogether.
  • Allow myself to go for a walk because I want to instead of subscribing to the ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality by forcing myself to go to the gym even though I’m not feeling up for it.

There’s no need for a fake upbeat façade or over-the-top cheerleading here; just being understanding, kind, and nurturing toward you.

Focus on tiny steps you can take every single day.

Now that you’ve deleted that cheesy motivational poster, ask yourself, “What steps can I take to help me feel better and get out of this slump?”

This could be:

  • Scheduling an appointment with your boss to discuss why the frequent late nights at the office aren’t working for you.
  • Spending five minutes before bed meditating to calm your mind so you don’t spend the night tossing and turning, and feel exhausted the next day.
  • Taking an hour on Sunday to prepare all the ingredients you need for your week’s lunches so you don’t have to eat the foods that trigger your binge eating.
  • Sitting with your partner to tell him or her that you’re not happy, and haven’t been for awhile, and that you’d like to figure out why together.
  • Letting your friend know that she hurt your feelings instead of trying to ignore the tension and discomfort between the both of you.

Taking steps to change instead of faking an upbeat front can do wonders in helping you to lift those heavy, grey clouds off your shoulders.

And remember, small wins add up to bigger wins, and more reasons to start feeling happier, more confident, and in the perfect position to feel positive…when you really mean it.

Rose colored glasses image via Shutterstock

About Michele Lian

Michele has worn multiple hats over the years: emotional eating survivor, microbiologist, Deputy Editor at SHAPE Malaysia, American Council On Exercise-certified personal trainer, Precision Nutrition-certified sports nutrition coach, and now, self-care advocate at michelelian.com. She’s fascinated with food, movement, and learning how to take better care of herself as she makes her way through this crazy, chaotic world, and her mission is to help you do the same.

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