I’m a member of several young adult cancer groups on Facebook. It’s a place where I often go for support and to complain and to vent. I gain strength and perspective from hearing about how others have navigated our shared experiences. I am so grateful for that. But today, a topic came up in one of the groups that’s a hot topic for me. I can’t stop thinking about it … which is usually a sure indicator that I need to write about it. So, I’m going to get up on my soapbox here on my own blog about The Power of Positivity.
And here’s what I want everyone to think about and remember:
When you’re sick, every where you turn you hear about the Power of Positivity:
- “If you just stay positive this will all be over in no time.”
- “You must be doing so well because you’re so positive.”
- “Oh. You’re in pain? Well, just stay positive.”
- “Oh. You’re upset? Well, just be positive.”
- “Look on the bright side…”
- “There’s always a silver lining…”
This message is so entrenched in how we, as a society, respond to illness or crisis that I think it sometimes slips out of people’s mouths unbidden. It’s become something you “just say” to someone who is having a hard time or in the middle of a terrible experience. We spit out these phrases because it’s hard to see someone be sad or angry or upset or scared or terrified and not want to lift them up with catchy phrases and show tunes.
I get it. I mean, I’m an intensely positive person (and I know…it can be annoying…even to me). But I didn’t “beat cancer” by being positive. It’s not like I wielded my positivity like a sword in an epic battle against the evil wizard Cancer.
Positivity can be so much more subtle than that. Randall Munroe, the genius behind xkcd.com, illustrated my experience so very well:
My positivity, mostly, kept (and keeps) me from laying in bed all day long wondering why this happened to me.
But, the fact of the matter is — even if I did decide to lay in bed all day long … it would be FINE. It would be NO BIG DEAL. Because it’s natural to feel a little sorry for yourself when your doctors are butchering, poisoning and irradiating you. In fact, it’s natural to feel a little sorry for yourself when those things AREN’T happening to you.
And if you don’t take the time to really FEEL those feelings … well, they can come back to bite you at the worst possible times. Or they will manifest themselves in more insidious ways (e.g, as more illness, depression, sadness, etc.).
Let me be clear: Being positive is NOT a substitute for all your other feelings.
I know at this point you may be thinking, “Geez. Why does Jenn have her panties in such a bunch about this?”
It’s because I don’t want people to feel like they are broken just because they are having trouble “turning lemons into lemonade.” There is nothing “wrong with you” if you can’t (or don’t want to) see the silver lining in a sucky situation. Your emotions are not “wrong” or “bad” or “inappropriate” because they aren’t accompanied by a smiley face emoticon.
Being told how to think or feel is like being bullied in the school yard. And I don’t like seeing people be bullied … with negativity OR positivity.
Yes, I’m a naturally positive person.
But you don’t have to be.
Do I believe that some people are born more positive than others? Maybe.
Do I believe that you can cultivate a positive outlook regardless of your base level of positivity? Definitely.
Do I believe that if you’re not positive that you’re somehow weak or “letting your illness win?” HELL NO.
I think the point of all this is to remind everyone that words can hurt. (More amazingness from xkcd.com … way better than I could ever explain):
It’s not helpful to try and force others to be positive. You can still BE positive without trying to convince everyone around you that they have to climb on your unicorn and take the rainbow to Happyville with you.
So, be gentle with your positivity, please?! At the very least, you’ll avoid getting punched in the face. And that’s got to be a good thing.