Imagine you are in a crisis. (Or don’t imagine–because you are in one.) And it’s terrible. Everyone around you is saying overly positive things like “it could be worse” or “at least you aren’t dying”. They are convinced you just need to look on the bright side, but you are wondering if you are living in an alternative reality. Do people really think it’s sunshine and roses? Is it really that great? Am I just a negative Nancy?
I’m convinced that about 98% of the population lives in denial, so no. You, my friend, are one of a kind. You see things in reality and speak your truth. There’s nothing wrong with you. And there is no rule book on how to deal with a crisis, but I’m pretty sure being upset would be the norm.
That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with positivity or gratitude, however, many people use it as a tactic to avoid hard truths. It’s probably one of the most unhealthiest ways to live. In fact, studies show that suppressing your biogenetics (that is, your true feelings and character) for free traits (or traits that are expected of you) damages your ANS (the automatic nervous system that is responsible for many of our important bodily functions) over time. When you are in the midst of a crisis, the last thing you need is to be told to “suck it up”. Over time, this treatment actually ruins our health. (See Me, Myself, and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being, Chapter 3: Free Traits: On Acting Out of Character by Brian R. Little. )
Here’s what to do instead:
Instead of pretending you are fine, the world isn’t a giant bag of poo, and that you aren’t unraveling at the seams, admit that you are having a difficult time. Don’t suppress, deny, or devalue yourself. Be completely honest. How are you doing?
We all need an opportunity to check in with our emotional well-being. If we are hurting and struggling, the best thing we can do is admit it so we can deal with it.
Avoid Overly Positive People
Overly positive people have their heads in the clouds. They can’t accept any negative emotion and won’t support you when you struggle. This says a ton about them–not so much about you. If someone dies, they think the rose on the coffin should be celebrated. It’s not so much that they see the bright side of things, but that they ignore the hard stuff and invalidate feelings that make them uncomfortable. Do yourself a giant favor and avoid these people.
In case you are wondering what invalidation is, here’s the definition:
Invalidation is to reject, ignore, mock, tease, judge, or diminish someone’s feelings. It is an attempt to control how they feel and for how long they feel it.(Source: EQI)
Recently I expressed the fact that I lost my job because of Coronavirus. I wondered how this was affecting other people’s mental health. I was sick of everyone invalidating my feelings. I stated it was a hardship and awful. This was the response I received in return:
It’s not easy, but I try to think of the people in the hospitals who are dying as they gasp for air to breathe. Soon there will be those who don’t even have the luxury of hospital beds as they die gasping for air to breathe. Now that’s hardship. And it could be you and me next week if we don’t flatten the curve.
I knew this was invalidation at first glance. How dare I care about the mental well-being of others when there are people gasping for air! (enter eyeroll)
The message is: Stop complaining. Your feelings are stupid and weird.
It is dismissing the struggle of someone else, comparing it to something perceivably more devastating so that the person who complains or is hurting feels like they are wrong for feeling bad. This is extreme toxicity. Again, this is a reflection of the person who is doing the invalidating because they probably have been invalidated, so they consider it normal. In addition, they are trying to use logic to address emotions. It just doesn’t work. Instead of trying to correct them, a better use of energy would be to avoid them altogether.
Avoid Overly Negative People
And in this corner, weigh in at 2,000 pounds, is Mr. Negativity with his chronic complaints and constant doomsday predictions. Yeah, no thanks.
Mr. Negativity will drag you down, pummel you, and then when you walk away feeling like you have no reason to exist any longer, he’ll tell you some more stuff that’s wrong with the universe. Whether he knows it or not, he’s slowly tearing away your mental health.
Swinging too far to the negative side or too far to the positive side is not living in reality. So do yourself a favor and put them both on your “do not call” list.
Feel the Feelings
The biggest mistake I’ve made is trusting the wrong people with my feelings. There are safe people who understand and then there are the people I described above. Either you get someone invalidating your feelings, or you get someone who runs with the negative emotion and uses it to build a giant dumping ground. Both are THE worst.
It’s hard to find that safe place to fall, so the best place to start is with yourself. If you are feeling sad, then feel sad. If you are upset and angry, then allow yourself to be angry. Why do we feel like we have to suppress our emotions? Why do we choose to suck it up?
This is extremely damaging and unhealthy. Grab a journal, a pen and paper, or a trusted friend and spill the details. The more you share, the better you’ll feel. Remember the ANS I was talking about earlier? Well turns out if you write or share the suppressed emotion, it actually improves your immune system! On the other hand, suppressing and avoiding causes health problems down the road. You decide.
I literally hate when people tell me to practice gratitude. It’s usually another cop-out so they don’t have to listen to your feelings. But that doesn’t mean the idea is wrong. The motive behind it probably is, but gratitude is actually a really good thing.
You won’t find me with a BUJO (Bullet Journal, for those not in the know). I don’t write down all my thoughts and feelings to my dear, old diary. I don’t even dump my problems on most people because I’m a person that tries to work through my own stuff. However, I think it’s important to think about, write down, or focus on things we are thankful for. The entire universe and everything in it are not bad. There are good things to focus on if we look. What are they?
Maybe it’s just a funny quote someone told you, or the way your dog snuggled in your lap, or the fact that you accomplished something hard. Whatever it is for you, try to tune into that good thing. We don’t take enough time to praise ourselves or notice our own accomplishments. It’s rare that we notice the good things in our lives. Take some time each day to let good thoughts sync in. Not “good vibes only”. That’s just ignoring the bad vibes and pretending only good exists. There’s room for radical acceptance and room for gratitude too.
Find an Outlet
When a crisis hits, we often turn inward. We feel anxious. We overthink everything. Our world becomes filled with worries, thoughts of the future, and trying to solve problems that we can’t. Instead of focusing on ourselves and becoming consumed with our own thoughts, there’s something to be said for reaching out and helping others. Sometimes this isn’t possible physically. But what about sending a card to a loved one who is lonely? Maybe you could sew or knit an item for a person in need. If you have children at home, try to find ways to pour into their lives instead of self-focusing.
You might be amazed at how much better you feel when you can use the skills you have to help someone in need. Worrying and obsessing will not make our problems go away. They’ll just make them worse. Reaching out, connecting, or offering support to others will not only improve our well-being but the well-being of others. Look for ways to spread support in your circle and see where it takes you emotionally.
Let’s not forget that even the best emotionally stable people can still fall into invalidating someone else, especially if it hits too close to home. We all have a tendency to deny when life is overwhelming. This doesn’t always mean you are toxic. It might just mean you need to learn coping skills.
If you catch yourself invalidating someone, here are some ways to support people who are struggling:
- Acknowledging the other person’s feelings
- Identifying the feelings
- Offering to listen
- Helping them label their feelings
- Being there for them; remaining present physically and emotionally
- Feeling patient
- Feeling accepting and non-judgmental
Source: EQI – Validation
Final Thoughts When Facing a Crisis
While it might be the norm to just accept positive thoughts and ignore the negative ones, it’s much healthier to express our emotions in healthy ways. We can’t deal with our emotional state by denying it exists. When we are in a crisis, you can’t use logic to heal emotions. Instead of “sucking it up”, learn to embrace how you feel, find a way to deal with it, and then use the skills you have to reach out to others who are hurting.
Thoughts? I’d love your feedback! Let me know how you deal with your emotions in difficult times.