When Staying Positive Becomes A Crutch

Mar 06, 2020

These days, when I hear the words “stay positive”, I see right through it.

Even as recently six months ago, staying positive was totally my thing.  No matter what the hardship, staying positive was key to getting through it.  I’d even go so far as to say that I was a master at it.  People began to associate me as that girl who’s always so positive and has such a great approach to life.

What you didn’t see is that behind the smiling and seemingly put together appearance was my suffering.  There was an ache so deep in my heart that I couldn’t put to words because I didn’t know how and because in doing so, it would feel like I’d failed.  Being vulnerable and asking for help wasn’t a skill I was taught.   Somehow clinging to my stoic persona in the name of positivity was what had seemed like the right thing to do back then.

The doorbell rang one beautiful summer night this past year and my son opened the door for my sister who was popping in unexpectedly to drop something off for me during one of her evening walks in the neighbourhood.   Meanwhile, I’d been upstairs crying and as I walked down the stairs to greet her, I couldn’t contain myself.  I just hadn’t had enough time to dry my eyes out and to gain composure so of course she saw right through me.   She was thrown off guard, rushed over to hug me and said “you never cry” because she’s right.  I never do publicly.  Unbeknownst to me, I had created a positive image of myself that was completely fake.  I was a real human with real feelings and the number of times when I haven’t showed up fully as myself are too many to count. It was costing me deep connection.

My perception of positivity shifted when I noticed that “staying positive” were becoming buzz words just like “authenticity”, “manifestation”, and “self love”.  “Just stay positive” was on the tip of everyone’s tongue, loosely released without much thought.  Soon enough, it became clear to me that telling someone to stay positive was a way of shutting them down.

How about that?

It’s the phrase to use when you’re in a rush and don’t have time to hold space to hear another dive deep into the messiness.


It’s a phrase you use when you start to feel uncomfortable being a witness to someone else’s troubles.

And you know what else?  I’ve done it to myself and I bet so have you.

How many times have you denied your own aches and sufferings in an effort to remain positive?  How many times have you convinced yourself that the current problems and conflicts in your life will dissipate so long as you stay positive?

I wish that was the case for your benefit and mine but sadly not.  In fact, I’m afraid that in an effort to stay positive, we’re putting on blinders instead.

As I sat there on the hard wooden chair at my local Starbucks a couple of months ago, it became painfully clear that I was no longer able to relate to the woman sitting across from me.  The large fluffy snowflakes outside the cold window pane were starting to fall  down hard and they reminded me of all the winters I’d spent with this dear friend of mine, chit-chatting about everything and anything.  What had happened as I continued to drift away from her?

And so it dawned on me as I took the next sip of my English breakfast tea and tried really hard to relate to her that fundamentally we were different.  I could no longer understand her attempts to continuously “stay positive” and surrendering to what is rather than tackling the long standing issues she’s had for years.   “I can’t change him so I’m just going to not sweat the small stuff.  Ever since I’ve started meditating, I’ve become so much calmer and things don’t bug me anymore. Meditation has helped me so much. I don’t bother fighting.  I walk away and just stay positive” were the words that were spewing out of my friend’s mouth.  And as desperately as I wished for her to be truly happy, I could hear it in the croaking of her voice and I could see it in the emptiness in her eyes that she wasn’t happy although she was trying to convince herself that she was. It was all she could do because in essence, my friend’s fear of change was bigger than her desire for change.   In that moment, I knew why I was so irked by positivity.  It’s because….

Positivity prevents you from tapping into your resiliency.

 Do you know what else it does?

It dulls that inner voice.  The same voice that wants you to know when you’re on the edge of a precipice and need to bring in change. In an effort to paint a rosy picture, positivity blocks you from acknowledging red flags.  I was made painfully aware of this as recently as two months ago.

Standing there in front of my bathroom mirror, I noticed the redness and swelling in my eyes.  For the past two months I’d been experiencing a continuous cycle of red, itchy, swollen and fatigued eyelids followed by dry, flaking skin and then a slow resetting.  Just as I had a moment to catch my breath, the cycle would repeat itself within a few days.  I was beside myself.

As I made my way to my Naturopath, desperately praying and hoping that she’d be able to magically fix me, I couldn’t figure out for the life of me how this case of Blepharitis had managed to sneak into my life.  I’d never even heard of this diagnosis let alone knew what to do with it.  So I googled the s*it out of it and also consulted with a friend Neuro-Ophthalmologist who told me exactly what google told me-it was a chronic condition.

Thankfully my Naturopath knew exactly what it was and fixed me with natural remedies.  But something even more important happened that afternoon.  She told me that in my case, it was stress that had caused the Blepharitis.

I couldn’t believe it.

Me? Optimistic positive me? The same me who’s all about morning rituals and self compassion.  The same me who tells herself “no matter what, you’ve got this!”.  The same me who banks on the fact that resiliency and grit will get me through the roughest of moments and “I can’t let myself get down”.  And the same me who coaxes up her lil guy out of bed early morning for school, all the while whispering in his ears that “today is going to be a good day, if you will it to be!”.

This same positive me was that stressed out -to the point that my body had to break down in order to grab my attention?

I was completely disappointed in myself and in the fact that I hadn’t picked up on my body’s SOS signals.  What my Naturopath relayed back to me was that because I’m always such a “positive” person, I ignored my body’s stress signals in the process.  It hadn’t even occurred to me that I was in a place of distress because my natural tendency was to shed a positive light to all my issues and be done with it.

These days, I try really hard to refrain from telling someone to stay positive just for the sake of it.  It feels dismissive and  quite honestly, somewhat condescending.  I’d much rather just listen, acknowledge and bear witness.  It can be really hard  to do that sometimes especially when you feel that you’re not really helping the other but in actual fact, you are. Way more than if you said “ stay positive” and simply walked away.




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