A while back I watched a couple of videos and found them really helpful. Someone recently mentioned to me the phrase “the tyranny of the positive” in a comment I remembered those videos and thought I’d share them.
They are both clips from psychologists who have done loads of research work behind these ideas.
Basically the common theme is that sometimes people try to help us with the “at least it’s not as bad as X” type of statements. Or perhaps the “cheer up and be more positive” type of statements, or maybe, "I promise you everything is definitely going to be just fine"
These kind of statements can be so infuriating to someone who is really suffering since they seem to diminish the pain we are feeling. And they can devalue us, making us feel the person doesn’t care about us.
A desire for everyone to just be happy and be positive can be understandable. And yet when CLL is demolishing our lives why should we rejoice? And if our friends and family make like it really isn’t that big of a deal well it can be very hurtful and as one of the videos show we just tend to not bother talking to those people about how we feel any more.
Sometimes we don’t want cheering up. We don’t want pat answers. We don’t want to be told “it will be alright for sure”. We don’t want to be told our emotions are negative and should be fought against or denied.
At times the best thing a friend can do is simply be with us and not talk at all. In the ancient book of Job (found in the Bible) when disaster struck him his friends came and sat with him quietly for days. They showed him compassion by doing so. It was only by opening their mouths that they started causing trouble! You don’t have to be religious to relate to just wishing your friends or family wouldn’t say anything sometimes! These videos are not religious at all but seem to make a similar point.
Of course our friends can say useful things to us. But there is often a time when we just want our emotions to be heard; to be understood, to be seen.
And we need to be kind to ourselves too
We need sometimes to just say something like “Ah yes I see I am feeling sad / anxious / depressed / angry today. And I can see why. These feelings will come and go. They are not bad of themselves. But I will choose not to be dominated by them. And yes, I will remind myself of reasons to be grateful. And yes I hope to watch these emotions waft away. But for now this is how I feel and I’m not going to apologise for it or deny it or try to pretend to myself that I don’t. And whilst I won’t show these emotions to everyone, if I can find a safe space to share them with someone I will.”
Much much more to say about the. But check out these two very brief but helpful videos
The first is called “How to help a friend in grief” and makes the point that trying to simply cheer someone up is often really damaging. We can’t heal someone’s pain by trying to take it away from them.
Pain desires acknowledgement. It wants to be seen and heard. And by allowing someone to feel sad we do ultimately help them to feel better, just not as quickly as we often want in our instant quick fix society.
If it takes you two years or more to “get over” a diagnosis of CLL so be it. And in fact who says you have to “get over” it at all or that life can or should ever go back to exactly the same way it was before.
We sometimes need desperately for someone to understand that things really do feel bad for us, and just that process of being heard stops us from feeling so alone. No wonder we benefit from being in this group where others genuinely do understand what we are going through.
Watch this charmingly simple but profound video here:
The second video is a brief TED talk on Emotional courage. It explicitly discusses this idea of the Tyranny of the Positive.
Here’s a couple of quotes from the transcript to whet your appetite “Normal, natural emotions are now seen as good or bad. And being positive has become a new form of moral correctness. People with cancer are automatically told to just stay positive. Women, to stop being so angry. And the list goes on. It’s a tyranny. It’s a tyranny of positivity. And it’s cruel. Unkind. And ineffective. And we do it to ourselves, and we do it to others . . . Research on emotional suppression shows that when emotions are pushed aside or ignored, they get stronger. Psychologists call this amplification. Like that delicious chocolate cake in the refrigerator – the more you try to ignore it the greater its hold on you. You might think you’re in control of unwanted emotions when you ignore them, but in fact they control you. Internal pain always comes out. Always. And who pays the price? We do. Our children, our colleagues, our communities.”
Watch the rest here: