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Calling bullshit on fake positivity

By Michal Spiegelman

This blog has been a long time coming. I only teach what I need to learn myself.

Finding the good in other people is second nature to me. It is not fake positivity.

If you reach out to me to talk, chances are that I will acknowledge your honesty, courage, or awareness. Seeing your inner goddess, your true self, your divine feminine shining through, even in your most difficult moments, is not fake positivity.

I usually start my mentoring sessions with a question such as, “What went well since we last spoke?” This exercise is not about fake positivity. It helps my clients to acknowledge their small wins and give themselves the recognition that they usually expect other people to give them.

Every Friday in my Thriving Empath Facebook Group for Women, I ask our beacons to share one thing they’re proud of from the week. This weekly “Celebrating YOU” post is not fake positivity.

What is fake positivity? If you told me you were lonely or sad, and I said that you shouldn’t feel that way, that you have so much to be grateful for.

Often, such a response to someone’s pain comes out automatically. It’s not our fault. We have been conditioned to smile at all times, regardless of the circumstances. We have been programmed to be good girls. If you’re like me, your parents sucked you into a legacy of seeing difficult emotions as bad, shoving them aside, and ignoring them.

No wonder we became experts at faking smiles and saying, “I’m fine,” even when we’re not.

No wonder we label emotions on a binary: good or bad.

No wonder we avoid our feelings. All those feelings that were bottled up over the years grew, and it’s TERRIFYING to face them now.

Bottled up feelings always surface at some point.

Suppressed feelings manifest physically in the body.

Internal pain always comes out. Suppressed emotions get stronger. Fake positivity makes things worse.

Let’s be honest: I am guilty too.

When my kids were young, I tried to cheer them up whenever they were sad by giving them ice cream or chocolate. I never said, “It’s ok to be sad,” until they were young adults.

My default was always taking responsibility for others’ feelings and trying to fix them.

I have been guilty of trying to make someone feel better by using shaming phrases such as, ”It could always be worse.”

I don’t do that anymore.

I’ve come a long way since I was the little girl getting smacked by her mother and told, “Stop crying! I’ll give you a reason to cry.” (By the way, my mother did the best she could. Her own dad used to hit her with a belt.)

Years of spiritual and inner work helped me to change and taught me that we need to feel it to heal it.  

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that we should elevate. The question is…when?

One of the Four Models of Change in the Beacons of Change philosophy is the Downshift Upshift Model. We are all responsible for recognizing our automatic downshift whenever we’re triggered and to do the work of upshifting.

I tell my students that Reiki is the quickest and most deliberate way to shift to a higher vibration.

I believe in the power of the upshift.

When we fall or fail (because we will), we have what it takes to pick ourselves up. Rise and Shine is one of the Beacons of Change 12 Practices for Living at Full Power.

BUT (and this “but” is critical!) it’s a question of timing.

Taking positive action and moving your life forward is only effective once you have recognized, felt, and addressed all your emotions.

Skipping over feeling the pain will only delay your healing.

True healing means allowing and embracing the feelings without letting them take over.

Feeling your feelings without letting them control you is the key.

“Things don’t really get solved. They come together, and they fall apart. Then they come together and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

—Pema Chodron in When Things Fall Apart

Being emotionally healthy means feeling and releasing. It’s a gentle dance that, like a waltz or a foxtrot, takes time to learn.

Fake positivity is skipping the feeling part and jumping too quickly to “I’m fine.”

The other extreme is staying stuck with the feeling part and holding on to the negative emotions for too long.

So what do we do?

We recognize the difficult feelings, own them, feel them, and do what it takes not to hold on to them for too long. When sadness takes over, we get depressed. Fear can easily turn into anxiety. When we allow anger to gain control, it paralyzes us instead of becoming our fuel for action.

Calling bullshit on fake positivity is not my invention.

In one of Brené Brown’s podcast episodes, “The Dangers of Toxic Positivity,” she talks with bestselling author Dr. Susan David about emotional granularity and agility and how they benefit us as individuals and as leaders. 

After listening to their conversation, I watched David’s TED Talk, “The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage. One of her quotes stuck with me: “Emotional agility is the ability to be with your emotions with curiosity, compassion, and especially the courage to take value-connected steps.” She also shared interesting research that illustrates how radical acceptance of all our emotions is the “cornerstone to resilience, thriving, and true authentic happiness.”

But you know me. I’m practical. So how do we stop faking positivity in real life?

Here is what not to say to someone (or yourself) who is hurting:

  • It could always be worse.
  • Don’t feel
  • At least…
  • You’re so pretty when you smile.
  • You’re strong. You can handle it. (Connecting with inner strength can come later.)
  • Happiness is a choice.
  • That’s life.

Here is what to say to someone (or yourself) who is hurting:

  • I see that you’re sad. I’m sad with you.
  • It’s ok to feel______.
  • How are you feeling?
  • I hear you.
  • I see you.
  • No wonder you feel that way.
  • I can’t even find the words, but I’m here with you.
  • Give yourself some time to feel exactly how you feel.
  • Give yourself time to feel and process.
  • How can I support you?
  • What does support look like for you right now?

That’s not fake positivity. It’s holding space for the work of letting one another RISE AND SHINE.

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I lived through four wars from the time I was a child until I was a mother. It left me with lingering trauma and lots of empathy for mothers around the world who feel helpless to protect their children. In difficult times, I am grateful for the tools I have now that I didn’t have then.

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