Sometimes life sucks, and it’s okay to say so.
Those insipid, “inspirational” quotes that tell you that “Life is what you make it”, and “There’s no such thing as bad luck, just a bad attitude” are both insulting and untrue. Of course we shouldn’t always look for the downside of a situation, and we shouldn’t have a defeatist attitude, but how is pretending to be happy when we aren’t going to help anyone. There’s a difference between being pessimistic and being honest, and as the old platitude says “honesty is the best policy”.
Swallowing emotions is no way to live.
Look, I’m not a therapist, but I can tell you what my therapist told me. It’s okay to acknowledge when you’re hurting. In fact, it’s healthy. As a kid I was told by well-meaning, but misguided family members that I should always be positive and happy, even when things were rough. As a result, I pushed down all negative feelings until they had no choice but to manifest in severe anxiety, depression, and PTSD. If you remember the movie Inside Out Disney put out a while ago, you’d remember that Sadness plays an important rule in your emotions. I spent nearly two decades trying to make my sadness disappear when I should have been learning how to use my sadness to learn and grow. Avoiding your feelings won’t make them go away.
Let’s talk about Toxic Positivity.
Toxic positivity is a buzzword phrase that’s been floating around the internet a lot lately. In summary, toxic positivity is the state of refusing to acknowledge any sort of “negative” experiences or feelings in your life. “Positive” and “negative” are very subjective in the emotional sense, but in general you inflate “negative” with “stress”. While avoiding situations that may trigger a stress response can be a very healthy practice, there are times when this is taken to the extreme. For example, avoiding a co-worker who is often rude without cause it probably a good idea. Reusing to talk to that co-worker, your boss, or HR about this person’s behavior because it’s uncomfortable is bad. Another examples of toxic positivity is the person who refuses to hear bad news, valid criticisms of their own actions, or the person who refuses acknowledge the pain of others. The problem with avoiding all negativity is that it means avoiding the situation all together. Again, I have to stress that avoiding a problem won’t make it disappear. Often it will just give the problems more room to grow.
You can’t fix a problem if you refuse to acknowledge it exists.
Let’s go back to the original premise: Sometimes life sucks, and it’s okay to say so. I stand by this statement. Bad things happen that we can’t control. Maybe your lost your job, a loved one passed away, your house flooded, your car got totaled, and your identity got stolen. Sometimes you do everything right, and things still go wrong. It’s okay to release some of the tension by crying or venting your frustration to a friend. Pretending everything is fine isn’t going to change the situation, or make you feel any better about it. Acknowledging what’s wrong and how you feel is often the first step in addressing it. Once you know what your facing you can figure out how to fight it.
How do we stay honest without being pessimistic?
This is a delicate line to walk. It’s so easy to fall into despair and wallow in self pity. It’s easy to blame everything in the world for our misfortune instead of looking for the opportunities to improve your circumstances. When I find myself falling into this pity-party trap I ask myself a handful of questions.
1- How do I feel right now? (Am I angry, sad, stressed, scared?)
2- Why do I feel this way? (Am I tired or overworked? Was this situation scary or am I over reacting?)
3- What can I control in this situation/What can I do right now? (Is this something I can fix now, or do I need a moment to calm down? What are some actions I can take)
4- Is this something I can handle, or do I need help? (Do I need assistance, a sympathetic ear to vent to, or is this a small thing I can take care of on my own?)
5- Is my reaction about the situation, or something else? (Am I upset about this minor setback, or is there something bigger going on? Is this about the actual situation, or something unrelated?)
6- How could this situation have been worse, and in which ways are you lucky. (This one is hard and seems strange, but even saying “I could have died, but I didn’t” is a start).
Sometimes just asking myself why I feel like my life sucks, or I’ve run into a string of bad luck can help me figure out why I feel the way I do. Often I’ll find that my emotions are valid, but not so overwhelming that I can’t take action to fix my dilemma. You don’t have to have a solution right away. Sometimes you do need awhile to process the things happening to you, or around you, before you can pick yourself up and start moving again. Feel what you need to feel then get moving again. Sometimes life does suck, and sometimes admitting that is the first step in making it suck less.