I’ve experienced the benefits of optimism and intention very much in my own life, which is why I was shocked when I began to notice a theme of this approach to life being a culprit of much distress for those experiencing circumstances that are considered “dark,” such as having an illness, dying, or simply going through anything that is considered undesirable.
Some examples of the dark side of positivity:
- A person experiencing a serious illness or other problem feels dejected or even alienated by others due to being told by numerous people that they are manifesting their issue, and to switch to more positive thoughts.
- A person feels guilt, insecurity, or lack of confidence for being diagnosed with a terminal illness, other ailment, or even for dying. They may not be able to identify exactly why they’re experiencing these emotions, but feel as though they have done something “wrong.”
- Someone experiencing grief is demanded to “show up” in a culture that expects happiness, emotional control, and productivity, adding to their suffering and complicating their process.
- When the truth of having a terminal illness is avoided by individuals and loved ones, resulting in a failure to appreciate the moments that are left.
- When speaking out loud about death is considered dangerous, as if it’s bad luck or unnatural, leading to lack of preparedness throughout life.
- When we say we’re “good” when we’re really something more like depressed, anxious, on the brink of divorce, etc., which leads to us feeling more depressed, which in turn makes others who are feeling all of those things feel worse too because they think our lives are so great.
The positive approach certainly appears to be valuable and supportive, which may be the reason it can be so insidious. As profound the effects of a positive mentality can be, the problem I find with it is that it’s only half of the truth of the reality of life, and not applicable to everything. Darkness is just as present as light here on earth, even literally- like how there is a sunset for every sunrise, joy and pain wavering in every one of us, death being part of the deal with every birth, impermanence presenting itself constantly.
It may be best for us to explore this reality of the full spectrum of life now; including what is dark or undesirable, considering that significant challenges will arise for each and every one of us. And with that, it may be serving for us to give ourselves and one another space to explore the feelings that arise when we do.
Death and grief and illness may not even be inherently negative, perhaps they may have a meaning beyond what we can comprehend as we’re in the midst of them. Maybe if we got everything we wanted in the way of positivity we wouldn’t have any growth. By making these parts of life out to be failures, we may fail to truly live and be there for one another.
(An excerpt from Chapter 6 from my book, Alive for Now: Using Death as a Teacher to Thrive in Life: https://www.amazon.com/Alive-Now-Using-Teacher…/…/1549605240)