Being Positive is Great, But First, Honor the Heartbreak

Gillian May

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

These days, I’m learning that balance is more important than going to extremes. This goes for everything from what we take into our bodies to what we practice with self-care.

There’s nothing wrong with excess at times, but when it’s done without reflection, and it begins to take a toll on certain aspects of our life, then our responsibility will inevitably be called into question.

Most of us know that balance is essential, but there are areas of life where no one ever questions the need for it — like positivity.

While I’m aware of the gifts that having a positive attitude can bring, I find that there’s a trend these days where positivity is the only acceptable way of being. This doesn’t jive with me, and it’s never helped me on my journey.

A positive-only stance is particularly problematic for the times when the shit hits the fan. I’m thinking of times of significant loss, disaster, grief, and extreme change. Striving for a positive attitude is one thing, but there has to be room to honor the heartbreak too.

Humans tend to think in extremes, especially in Western North American culture, and it’s beginning to take a toll on people’s mental health.

It’s never healthy to dwell in the deep dark for too long, but it’s also not helpful to strive only for positivity. This is why balance is so essential. In fact, balance is important even as we strive to find balance if you know what I mean?

Let’s say a disaster strikes, and there’s a tremendous loss. You’ll usually find that people split off into two camps — one camp gets lost in the horrors, and the other only wants to search for the positive learning aspects. Neither camp is wrong. Both are grieving and swimming in the deep and trying so hard to make sense of things.

Yet, what starts as a stressful situation is made more difficult by each camp refusing to acknowledge the tender humanity of the situation.

The whole thing is hard, yes there are lessons to learn and ways to rise above, but there’s also deep trauma with heartbreak that needs a voice too.

The learning of balance can be applied to almost any situation in our lives. When things fall apart, we can often find our best solace in the balance between feeling our hearts break and then working to rise afterward.

For anyone who has found this delicate balance, they know how precious and life-affirming this can be. And it’s a gift that we can all get to with some work, patience, and compassion.

For me, I’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum between positivity and negativity. I’ve watched my life descend into ruins and addiction by wallowing in my pain. I’d say it was almost an addiction in itself.

My pain gave me a purpose, an identity, and a justification to continue other addictions. It also gave me a fantastic excuse to never take risks, never fail, and stay neatly inside my cocoon.

I don’t need to tell you how destructive this became; I’m sure you can guess where that path took me.

And once I started to understand what I was doing to myself, I made the bold decision to go to the other extreme. I immersed myself in healing communities, meditation, and other spiritual trends. And it certainly helped me dig myself out of the trenches.

But then, I found I was equally addicted to positivity and thus unable to honor the feelings that always seemed to want a voice no matter what I did to shut them up.

Sometimes, we need to go to these extremes before we can even learn the balance between going low and going high. Many teachers of this balance have had a similar experience, which shows us that life is often our best teacher.

So if you find yourself in a period of deep trauma and grief, no matter what has caused it, know that your feelings matter at that moment.

You do not have to force yourself to find the positive lessons in the disaster that may have occurred in your life. At least not yet. You can honor the pain, the stages of grief, the unfairness of it all. In fact, it is so human to feel profoundly vulnerable and afraid when things fall apart.

Go ahead and wallow in the mud for a while. You’ll know when you’ve spent enough time there by the evidence of decay in your body and mind. If you find yourself losing the skills to get back up again, your muscles and brain atrophied from too much time spent on the ground; then, you’ll know it’s time to take a new direction.

Yes, that new direction is going to hurt, and you will feel wobbly and uncertain of yourself. This is normal, so you don’t need to entertain thoughts of whether it might be better to stay down.

Instead, start looking up, begin the tender process of coaxing the mind and heart to start seeking those lessons. What tiny step can you take in this small moment? What new light-filled thought can you begin to muster in your mind?

This process will feel like a lot of work in the beginning, but over time, it gets easier. First, we crawl, then we walk. And with patience and practice, we can stretch and exercise our abilities to begin finding new possibilities.

The thing about wallowing too long is that we let our neurons settle into despair until we can no longer teach ourselves new skills.

But also, the thing about too much positivity is that we never practice what it means to feel deeply. We don’t learn how to touch the core of our broken selves, and thus find what true meaning looks and feels like.

We don’t honor our humanness this way because we become too mired in fear of negativity to see the truth of our situation.

So let’s vow to find balance in how we work with the challenges of our lives. In this way, we can remove judgment by allowing ourselves to be a mess from time to time. And then we find new ways to rise above without the pressure to hide our feelings.

By gently learning this for ourselves, we can find more peace, and we permit others to do the same.

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I'm a former nurse turned freelance writer. I have extensive experience in administration, frontline care, and education in mental health, public health, and geriatrics. However, after 20 years, I needed a change and always wanted to write. I have personal and family experience in mental health and addictions, so I'm passionate about advocacy and education in those areas. I'm also a traveler, photographer, and artist. I funnel all my various expertise into my writing and hope to provide valuable content that is entertaining and educational. Join my email list if you want to read more of my work - I also have a book on Alcoholic Liver Disease coming out in 2021.


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