“You can be sad today! You just have to pick it up tomorrow” – my wise-almost-21-year-old-daughter
I am totally opposed to positivity culture.
When faced with things like, oh, I don’t know, cancer, divorce, loss of a loved one, a very sick child, or pick your life trauma, the last thing you want and need is for people to tell you to “think positive!” Or “It’s all about mindset!” Or “you have to stay positive!”
They are talking to themselves 100% of the time. They don’t want the bad luck you are having, so they are trying to convince themselves that it can’t possibly happen to them because they just aren’t going to think that way. They also have no idea what else to say. Many people haven’t figured out that, “Oh, I’m so sorry. That sucks,” is a perfectly acceptable response in most cases.
So, when I tell you that you can be negative about something only for a limited time, I’m not talking about “just put a smile on your face.”
If you are faced with something that sucks, you may need to allow yourself to be negative about it, but then shake that shit off. The time limit is going to vary based on your needs and the situation. However, it’s going to be shorter than you want it to be.
I see shaking off bad stuff in a cycle that works like this: 1) shock, 2) tears, 3) deep sadness possibly impacting your eating and interactions with others, 4) gradually resurfacing to a functional level, 5) eventually processing what has happened and finding joy in life again.
It’s mostly part 3 that needs some limits placed on it, lest you fall too deep into the abyss. And I think it’s here that my kid wisely said you get the time to be negative, to grieve, to wallow, to have those sad emotions, but you have to know that you eventually must shake it.
I know for myself that I have to give myself time to grieve events that others might shake off in a second. I am particularly sensitive to certain types of things – negative interactions at work, for example, often will send me into a spiral of negative emotions. I know that nothing at all that happens at work is worth stealing my personal time. So, when this happens, I will give myself anywhere from an hour to a day to wallow in self-pity and anxiety, but then I must do something else. That might be anything from a funny movie, a walk, or spending time with friends. Anything at all to break that rumination cycle.
This isn’t a perfect process. It works for grief over death, but it has not always worked well for me. That’s because, of course, grieving the death of a loved one is a process that can take years, but absolutely no one has years to drop everything to grieve. You go through the deep grief, then you get back to life, but you keep grieving when you can or your body and brain force it for as long as you need. It’s just not something where a time limit works well.
But a breakup? A missed opportunity? A great disappointment? I think it’s important to let yourself wallow a bit and get it out of your system. If things are looking severe, then tell yourself you have until x time and date to get yourself moving again. You don’t have to be good, just fine enough to start putting one foot in front of the other again.