Updated: Sep 12, 2020
It’s difficult these days to go even just 24 hours without hearing something negative or pessimistic in either the outside world or internally in our own minds. Even if you try to surround yourself with more positivity, the darkness somehow finds a way to creep in and it’s taxing on our overall health.
The negativity strips away hope, purpose, and sense of control. Left unchecked, this negativity will take us all down. It makes sense that we create ways to deal with it.
One coping mechanism is to ignore it. Just push it aside. Maybe we can invalidate the negativity by not acknowledging it. Maybe it won’t become a big deal if we don’t make it a big deal, right?
Another is to feign positivity. If we pretend that things are great and give ourselves affirmations, then things will be great!
But after a certain point, suppressing the negative emotions, even with the intention of staying positive will start to feel inauthentic. Sure, it’s comfortable to be happy-go-lucky, but it’s also limiting the depth of our human experience and range of emotions.
If you’re like me, you don’t want to live a shallow life. You want to live a full, authentic life. A life true to your nature, values, interests, and skills. And we’ll never get there if all we seek is positivity.
Staying Positive Is Another Form Of Suppression
You can still live a happy, comfortable life and not have to address the deep stuff. You’ll get a good paycheck, you’ll be able to save money to do the things you like to do. You can still be happy. Not everyone has to experience ultimate ecstasy in their lives.
It does become a problem though if the bad stuff starts bubbling up and getting in the way of where you want to go. The deep insecurities and fears have taken ahold of your subconscious and now you’re feeling stuck, alone, doubtful, and unmotivated to do anything. Ignoring those negative emotions got you this far, but now, no matter how hard you try to stay “on top of it,” the negativity knows to just surround you instead. It’s like trying to contain a black, liquid glob that constantly wants to engulf you.
At some point in my own journey to increase my emotional intelligence, I realized that I’ve been limiting my own capacity for growth because I was so emotionally constipated. Jokes aside, I was told that showing feelings was “too feminine,” that I was being too sensitive, that showing the flaws, mistakes, and imperfections were signs of weakness. So I numbed those feelings.
I put on my ‘best face’ for my friends and family. Everything looked good on the outside. I had a great job, career potential, a house, a car, fun travel experiences. And I did it all on my own and I’m proud of that. At the same time, that pride that never allowed me to ask for help, also never allowed me to take risks out of fear of being judged or criticized. Plus, I didn’t like burdening others by giving them something to worry about or to have to try to “cheer me up,” so I just kept it all to myself.
You might have experienced these times when you or someone you know expresses their struggle and the first instinct is to encourage them, to keep their head up, or to lessen the issue. You might even hear that everything happens for a reason.
What this does, whether subconscious or not, diminishes their very human experience. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but we don’t have to be super positive all the time. Sh**ty things happen and sometimes there isn’t anything we can do about it, but it also doesn’t make what we feel any less real.
Ironically, suppressing the negative emotions in order to keep the positive ones will start to make life feel less positive. Because you’ll have nothing to compare to, and even the good times will feel shallow.
How do we beat this?
Let Negativity Win Once In A While
It seems counter-intuitive, but one idea I’ve been practicing is to occasionally let negativity win. This is not giving up or letting it consume you. It’s acknowledging and embracing it as a worthy being. It’s seeing it not as a competitor, but as a partner.
I know this might sound like “hippie-dippie” stuff to some. Just let it be, maaaaaan, don’t resist and let it be. Stereotypes aside, there is value in adopting this mindset. If you’re feeling like you’re in a never-ending battle, always fighting against something that never goes away, it’s because you don’t understand what you’re fighting against.
This black glob of negativity doesn’t care how powerful, resilient, effective, and positive you are. Because it knows how to immediately flip all of that and use it against you. It’s sort of a sadist in the sense that it likes to see you struggle. But you can revoke its power by not resisting, by learning the art of stillness.
All it wants is your acknowledgment. It just wants to feel like it belongs, that it has meaning for being there. It wants to be part of you. It’s just a child that wants to play the game. So let it win. Let it feel heard and validated.
This doesn’t mean letting go of positivity altogether. It doesn’t mean go and be a dick to everyone and use the excuse that “you’re just being ‘authentic.’” There’s a way to make space for both because you need both to be grounded. Life is like a sinusoidal wave, going from low, tough times, to high, fun times and back down again.
WTF is Authenticity Anyway?
I hesitate even using the word ‘authenticity.’ I feel like pointing it out as a goal ruins the true authentic nature of it. It’s like telling someone to act natural and they freak out because they’re trying too hard to act ‘natural.’
Instead, what I mean here is more of an acknowledgment of who you are and what you feel, both positive or negative. Authenticity is about staying as close as you can to your grounded self, to your true character. It’s about not giving yourself, your ideals, and how you feel away to anyone else, no matter who they are.
To be fair, we all want to keep our heads up for the sake of both ourselves and for others, rather than the “debbie-downer.” But then we forget how unrealistic and tiring it is to smile all day. When you’re treading water just to stay afloat and starting to feel your muscles give in, just relax, lay back, and let yourself float. It’s OK to be still.
All this to say, embracing the idea that I don’t have to be positive all the time feels a lot more true to me. Again, this might be different for everyone, maybe there are people who are always optimistic and it’s real and they love it.
But for those who don’t have that natural inclination, forcing positivity only creates a sense of fraudulence. When how we feel inside is misaligned with what we express, that’s where we get dishonesty, deception, and evasion.
Negative emotions are always going to be there. Even those who seemingly have it all together will still feel the lows at times. You only hear about other people’s success and triumphs, you didn’t hear about all the times that they’ve failed, repeatedly. You didn’t hear about all the times they were knocked down, made fun of, criticized. But it happened.
The hard part is to balance this with “faking it till you make it.” Sure, there is value in convincing yourself to be optimistic in order to attract positivity, but it has to come from a truthful foundation. You have to check-in with how you’re really feeling and ask yourself, what caused you to feel that way? What information is it giving you? And can you be honest with it?
How To Live With Authenticity
If you’re feeling like you’re starting to lose sight of yourself in order to maintain an image or your own sense of comfort, it’s time to step back and observe. Accept where you are as your reality. Then from that place, you have the power to do (or not do) something with it. This is one of the 11 EQ exercises I’ve collected to help you improve it on your own!