The Pain of Being Told ‘Just Be Positive’

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You might not be surprised to learn that I am a negative person.  Pessimism tends to be my default if I’m stressed, tired, or not paying attention to my surroundings.  Comes from many things, but I’m not getting into that.  What I want to talk about is the truth behind many people who are considered negative.  I will start by writing the phrase that many have used as if it fixes things:

Just be positive!

Well, why didn’t I think of that?  Let me just get a screwdriver and flip the switch in my brain from negative to positive.  Your words have made everything so clear that I’m now a full blown optimist.  My remaining days will be beautiful, perfect, and full of so many rainbows that I’ll think I’m living in a box of fucking Lucky Charms.

That might not be what I say out loud, but that is kind of what goes through my head when somebody hits me with that phrase or something similar.  It feels insulting as many people who are negative can attest.  It comes off as the person telling me to simply change my mood and mindset.  Not because they want me to improve, but because they don’t want to deal with it.  Demands for a negative person to be positive or to suggest that such people simply be cut out are rather selfish.  At least, they are if you do it without trying to see if there’s more to the story.

People aren’t usually negative because they enjoy it.  This is created within them by trauma and pain.  They have been disappointed, bullied, smacked down, and battered so often that they cannot muster positivity.  In fact, it can reach a point where the sensation of being positive stirs anxiety.  After all, if every time you’ve been happy or positive has resulted in soul-crushing defeat then you’re not inclined to put yourself in that situation again.  Negativity and pessimism become a defense mechanism that shields you from further pain.  This isn’t much of a consideration by people from what I can tell unless they really get to know each other.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s difficult to handle someone who is negative even when you are in the same boat.  We can handle our own pain and negativity rather easily.  Coming from the outside means it’s not our own suffering and we instinctively try not to let it merge with what we’re already fighting.  A big difference is that a person who is knowingly negative won’t tell another negative person to ‘be positive’.  This is because there’s some understanding that the situation needs more than a simple fix.

It’s difficult being a negative person, especially when you have to fake optimism in some situations.  This can be treacherous.  If you get comfortable then the negativity can leak out at times.  Many times it can be dark humor, which a negative person won’t realize is strange until people are staring at them.  For those who have inescapable toxicity around them feeding the pessimism, you have an added danger of things building up beneath the surface.  One bad day can result in an outburst, which people won’t understand because they didn’t know you had this issue.

This is a difficult topic.  Going to explore it a bit more with poetry and questions later in the week.  It’s hard to put into words and be sure I’m getting the points across.  Mostly, I just hope people understand that negativity and pessimism can be born from pain that is still roiling in a person’s soul.  Telling them to be positive, which is a statement that started me thinking about this, really feels like a slap in the face.  Guess this is what happens when we’re taught it’s better to hide mental health issues than speak about them in the open.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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52 Responses to The Pain of Being Told ‘Just Be Positive’

  1. I’ve had rough times too, but after listening to my mother complain for nearly 60 of my years, I learned to consider what somebody else might think of me if I started to do the same. I tend to keep it all inside or write it down rather than be outwardly negative. I’m sure that the majority of people just don’t want to hear it. Just sayin’, but that’s how I feel.

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    • I get it, but I kept it inside and tried writing it down with no success. Keeping it inside caused my mental health to deteriorate because I felt nobody understood me. I was living a lie when I was acting happy and was truly miserable on the inside. Writing down never brought clarity. I think people pushing others to not voice their pain and to simply fake being positive says more about them than the target. It shows there’s no desire to hear what someone is going through. God forbid a person suffering from depression talks about it and brings another person down. I do agree that complaining with no attempt to improve is a problem, but I’ve noticed many who do that are typically being ignored or their pain is minimized by others. So, they can’t figure out what to do beyond screaming and complaining because they feel like nobody really cares. If nobody cares then many simply become louder.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My grandmother swept any problems under the carpet and pretended they weren’t happening. Her daughter, my mother, complained to the world and his wife. I don’t know what’s worse to be honest. Maybe it’s better to talk to somebody who understands, like a trained counsellor. At least they listen. I visited one on two occasions but didn’t come away with much hope. They tend to remain neutral, ask lots of ‘How does it make you feel’ questions, and in a round about way get you to sort any problems out on your own. I did this eventually and basically this is what it all comes down to, I think.

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      • Therapists are actually supposed to be neutral. At least at first. The goal is to get the patient to figure things out themselves because that makes the recovery stronger. Keep in mind that a therapist starts as a stranger, so they have to begin this way to get an idea of your emotional situation. As far as ignoring issues versus voicing them, I think the former is worse. This means you’re not trying to fix anything and the problems build to create new ones or will burst to destroy everything. A person constantly complaining can be annoying, but that is a stage of solving a problem. The trick is getting that person to move into solutions, which is where therapy or a trusted friend can come into play.

        Liked by 1 person

      • My mother even in extreme old age was stuck on the problems in her childhood that my grandmother had swept under the carpet. What a mess it all was. She would never listen to reason or visit a counsellor. As for me, after 59 years of it I just got sick of hearing of the same old problems going round and round on the turntable. Now I just keep any problem to myself and do my best to sort it out. I’m very pleased to say that I managed to do this. Yes, problems do need sorting out for sure instead of pretending they don’t exist. We all need to live true to ourselves to be happy.

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      • I’ve noticed that people who grow up with parents who do one extreme tend to move towards the other. This is why both versions cause damage to people around them. As much as I agree with living true to ourselves to be happy, friction is caused by opposing methods of stress handling. One said tries to force the ‘sweeping’ method on the ranting side while the ranting side gets louder because they feel like they’re being insulted. It’s a mess and why I think more people should be in therapy.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Very true that often people do the exact opposite in life to what their parents did. I’m very conscious of not complaining. Mum was her own worst enemy and often complained of a lack of visitors. Something struck me when I first visited Mum in her sheltered housing … one of the carers told me that they ‘like the happy ones’ better. I will always remember that.

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      • I think most people like the happy ones better, but that’s a slippery slope. It means the sad and angry ones can be ignored or shrugged off as not worth the time. This is kind of what this post is about too. The push for an upset person to simply be positive is an attempt to force them into something more acceptable even if it’s false and covers up the pain. It teaches a person that nobody really cares and they have to suffer in silence. This is what can lead to anxiety, depression, and suicide because the person suffering has no other outlets.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, what you’re saying is very true, but what’s to be done about it? That is the sad question.

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      • Talking about it with the right people. Those who will listen and not rush into solutions. It could be friends, family, or a therapist. The most important thing to do for a person who is upset is to listen and give support instead of trying to tell them what to do to get better. Not unless they openly ask for such advice.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Lucy says:

    I think the people who say “Be positive” or “Don’t think that way” may not have gone through similar experiences. They can try to sympathize, but they may not emphasize entirely—if that makes sense.

    I am probably more pessimistic than I’d like to think, and that does shine through my dark humor. I’m honestly surprised I still have friends because of it, hahaha.

    But yes, I hate it when someone just says, “Be positive.” Wow, I had no fucking idea that it’s an instant cure all! 😐

    I also think it’s life too. No one’s going to be always happy, not everyone can remain positive at different prospects or situations. I think whoever tells us that comes off as condescending with “Just be positive.” They probably don’t want to deal with us either than they want us to feel better—as you said.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I can see that in some cases. There are people I’ve run into who simply don’t want to hear it. They’re so wrapped up in their own emotional state that they don’t want negativity from a person in pain to cause any trouble. They won’t turn the suffering person away, but they’ll try to push for a change to make themselves comfortable as soon as possible.

      I’m very pessimistic. Part of that comes from a run of bad luck throughout my life, especially when things are starting to go well. I also have a few people in my life who are quick to push me down if I try being positive and optimistic. So, my instinct is to be negative and pessimistic to avoid other people putting me in that position against my will.

      Condescending is the perfect word for it. I would say callous too for some people.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. L. Marie says:

    Thanks for being honest. That took courage.

    More and more, I have discovered that many people are just guessing when they hand out pat advice. But when they go through hard times, my guess is that pat advice isn’t what they want to hear though they doled it out. So it is far easier to say, “Oh don’t be this way” than to go through a hard time and follow that advice.

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    • Thanks. You make a good point. People who give out this kind of advice probably don’t like hearing it when roles are reversed. I’ve actually seen it in action. A friend who was always telling sad people to be positive hit a rough patch. When somebody told them to smile and be positive, they flipped and cried that they weren’t understood. Yet, it didn’t strike them as hypocritical and they went back to giving the pat advice once they recovered.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The comments are as good as the post today. This is an important topic, and it’s a difficult one, too. I relate on so many counts. It seems like every time I start feeling good about something the rug gets pulled out. I’ve become more reclusive as a result. One of the other issues is that society has changed. People really don’t care as much as they used to.

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    • Repeatedly getting knocked down is a rough one. It makes people really cautious when things are going well. This can reach a point where happiness is seen more as a bad omen than a good one.

      I’m not sure about society changing into one that doesn’t care. The strange thing is that I see many people openly speaking about their issues and suffering on social media. Younger generations especially tend to put their hearts on their sleeves regardless of how much blood is spewing out. The ‘just be positive’ comments I get tend to be from my own generation and the older ones where the ‘hide your pain’ mentality was more prevalent, especially for men.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It does take all kinds in the world. I am by nature an optimistic person no matter the struggle. I think losing my dad at ten got me into that position. I do not, however, feel that it is my job to have everyone around me in the same profile. I think offering advice to people is a waste of time unless they ask for it. I always hate to see folks in pain, but I have learned my coping methods may not work for them. Great discussion, Charles.

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  6. Victoria Zigler says:

    While I agree that, “Be positive,” is a thoughtless piece of advice, and hurts when it’s the go-to advice for people who are being negative, I also disagree that it’s impossible for a person with a lot of trauma in their past to be positive. Even if you aren’t a natural optamist, you can redirect your way of thinking. It won’t stop the negative thoughts from creeping in sometimes, but even naturally optamistic people will generally have moments of negativity. What you can do though is use the power of gratitute and positive thinking to help you have at least some times when the smile is actually real. It’s harder for those with a lot of bad experiences to fight against, but it’s possible.

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    • It’s that last sentence that’s the kicker. For many, it’s difficult to get a smile going. While a person who had been traumatized can become positive in nature, that becomes a challenge when they have people giving the ‘be positive’ advice. Those words at the wrong time do the opposite of what they’re intended.

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  7. Some people are born with a sunny disposition, others aren’t. There’s nothing wrong with either, but society definitely favours the positive type – probably because, as you say, it finds it hard to deal with the negative. Like you, I get very tired of the ‘be positive’ message. Trying to force positivity when you’re not feeling it is like spraying air freshener on a shit mist – it makes a whole that is more noxious than its parts.

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    • Society is much more interested in hiding its damaged citizens. Talking about things is even discouraged. I’ve been told openly admitting I have an anxiety disorder will make me unemployable a few times. So, I have to hide it, but this does make things worse. Nobody knows when a person has this kind of issue, so the stress can be built up to a breaking point. Then the sufferer snaps and everyone is shocked.

      I’m starting to wonder if people consider that most constantly sad people probably have depression and/or anxiety. It’s why they have so many lows.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. It’s kind of like blaming the victim, in a way. It implies that the person who “needs to look on the bright side” is at fault, they are doing something wrong. When, in fact, there is probably a reason for the person to be upset or discouraged, and other people just don’t know what it is.

    Now cheer up, Charles!!

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    • That’s actually exactly what it is. The phrase makes it sound like these moods come with an on/off switch. Reminds me of the old Simpsons Halloween episode where someone set a Krusty doll to evil, so it was trying to kill Homer. If only it was that easy.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. ospreyshire says:

    I’ve certainly had to fake optimism and doing things to hide my negativity as if those emotions weren’t allowed whether they were justified or not. It’s just frustrating being victim blamed and psychologically abused in subtle ways where I became more negative and even defeatist at times.

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    • Great point. The forced optimism does tend to create more negativity. It’s like a horrible cycle.

      Liked by 1 person

      • ospreyshire says:

        Thanks. I really wished I recognized the toxic positivity when I was a lot younger, then I wouldn’t have been damaged as much. The whole forced positive sunshine and rainbows stuff is one aspect why I’m no Disney fan with the formulaic happy endings and whatnot. I’ve even been called emo which is stupid and not just because I listened to some of the “prehistoric” real stuff like Mineral back then and I had legitimate reasons to be depressed. I should’ve shamed that person then.

        Liked by 1 person

      • People use ‘emo’ incorrectly all the time. I see it used as a synonym for depressed. Tends to be in a mocking way.

        Liked by 1 person

      • ospreyshire says:

        That is so true especially when it comes to the music. If someone calls bands like Rites of Spring, Sunny Day Real Estate, or even Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate), that’s one thing, but bands such as Hawthorn Heights, Fall Out Boy, and My Chemical Romance are fake Hot Topic-core emo. Okay, I had to get that out of the way.

        Having it as a synonym for depressed is stupid. ironically enough, the last person to call me emo was a former college roommate of mine who was a skinny jean wearing, tight shirt-sporting, flat-ironed hair SCENESTER! The irony was unbearable and I hated how he downplayed my depression and anxiety. I should have insulted him and verbally fought back more although he was offended when I said he was in a clique. God, I wish I could’ve went back in time and figured out ways to humiliate those who bullied me and counteract every insult.

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      • I always forget that Emo is a music genre until I do a crossword puzzle with it. Growing up, it wasn’t a common word and got switched with Goth. That’s probably why Hot Topic is the way it is since Emo and Goth have been intertwined in many areas. Never knew Fall Out Boy was considered Emo either.

        Sadly, your average person doesn’t really understand depression and anxiety. A big reason for that is because of how the words are used. People use depression for being sad and anxiety for being nervous as if they’re pure synonyms. So, they don’t know to take it seriously when someone with the actual mental illnesses are in their presence and having trouble.

        Liked by 1 person

      • ospreyshire says:

        Haha! Don’t worry about it. The fake emo was huge during my high school years when the scenester style and guyliner were popular. Emo started out as an offshoot of hardcore and punk with Rites of Spring and eventually a more technical form of indie rock with your Sunny Day Real Estates for example, but then some whiny pop punk bands decided to co-opt that term for some weird reason. FOB were one of the big fake emo names when they were starting out as well as a ton of the stuff from Fueled By Ramen records in the mid to late 00s. Emo and goth are different (especially musically) though. Great, now talking about this reminded me of that Your Scene Sucks website I used to follow back then.

        Yeah, and that sucks. People can really make misconceptions about mental health. In my case, it was also compounded with covert racism against me with the occasional overt cases which didn’t help.

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      • I remember those things, but I was a wallflower off in his own world. The social cliques and categories never really registered with me. Not sure there was ever a big Emo scene in my area too. I remember there being a lot of Grunge, Rock, and early Pop. I think. I just listened to whatever sounded good.

        The covert racism had to make things even worse. Sorry you had to go through that.

        Liked by 1 person

      • ospreyshire says:

        Gotcha. I wasn’t into cliques either. Is that so? I know Texas Is the Reason, Taking Back Sunday and Brand New were from New York, so there wasn’t any buzz from those bands around where you lived?

        Yeah. There were times where I didn’t realize it until after the fact which was even more frustrating. The overt stuff I certainly called out, but the dog whistles were infuriating.

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      • Might have been buzz, but it wasn’t anything I paid attention to. Looks like ‘Taking Back Sunday’ showed up in 1999 and I was in upstate New York. Not one of the areas where you’d find a lot of Emo either.

        Liked by 1 person

      • ospreyshire says:

        Understandable. They didn’t get more prominent until about the mid-00s, to be fair. Upstate New York had some good bands like Damiera (even though they eventually moved to Chicago) and This Day & Age to name a few.

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      • ospreyshire says:

        …but then again, the fake emo/pop punk band Cute Is What We Aim For IS from Buffalo, though. SMH.

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      • I wasn’t close to Buffalo. I went to Oswego, which is an hour north of Syracuse. Definitely a small town area. More of a New Age thing going on among my peers.

        It is funny how this state is sectioned to the point where cultural things like bands and food don’t really travel. Don’t think people realize that one part of New York can be totally different from another. We’re always seen as New York City people. Not that I’m saying you did this, but this comment just got me thinking about it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • ospreyshire says:

        Sure thing. Funny enough, there’s also an Oswego in my home state, too. New Age things? I wouldn’t have expected that.

        That is very curious how things stay in certain regions. I know there are differences, but you still have people that assume that New York state is like New York City. I’ve been to Albany, Syracuse, and some rural towns en route to Vermont when my family and I vactioned up there. There were parts of New York state that felt like Wisconsin to me and I was surprised that Albany was smaller than a city I used to live in and I didn’t live in a major city. Don’t worry, I didn’t think you were assuming I though of New York that way. Oddly enough, some people consider places like Poughkeepsie to be Upstate New York when it’s not even all that far north from the Big Apple.

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      • A lot of people think Upstate is everything north of NYC. Same ones who think Long Island is part of NYC.

        Liked by 1 person

      • ospreyshire says:

        It’s that bad? WOW! The geography nerd in me is fuming about the “Long Island is part of NYC” thought. Come on, people. I’m not even from New York and even I know that’s separate from America’s biggest city. It’s like saying Beverley Hills is part of LA or Evanston is part of Chicago. [Facepalm]

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      • That’s the thing. Outside of a region, most people aren’t aware of geography. Even people in Buffalo and Syracuse think Long Island is part of NYC. I’ll admit that I’m not that great with it, but I try not to jump to conclusions about where people come from.

        Liked by 1 person

      • ospreyshire says:

        That’s right. I could rant about how people in America aren’t good with geography even if it involves this country, but that’s a rant for another day. Even people in Buffalo and Syracuse think Long Island is part of NYC? Dang, I didn’t realize that was a thing in that part of New York. There are people who assume those from New York are from NYC. There was someone I know from my college days who was from the Ithaca area and she had to tell everyone she wasn’t from the Big Apple let alone telling others that there are rural parts of her home state. That even inspired me a bit with my cell phone novel series where one character is from Albany and she mentions in passing that people assumed that she’s from NYC or how people are “surprised” that she doesn’t have a New Yorker accent.

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      • It’s not surprising. Geography isn’t taught in school. You get basics in early history courses, but it’s never a focal point or even a minor point. I’ve found geography tends to be regional at best. Too busy trying to cram thousands of years of world history into students.

        Liked by 1 person

      • ospreyshire says:

        Yeah. I think I learned more about geography from Carmen Sandiego (especially the game show version on PBS Kids when I was little) than I did in all my years at school. I’m talking elementary all the way through university. You’re right that they’ll talk about basics and some US geography in civics, but so many people are clueless. I’ve been thankful to have grown up in a multi-ethnic area and have met people from several countries around the world. A good portion of them are surprised when I know a few things like cities, languages, or even bands from their homelands.

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      • Carmen Sandiego was my geography teacher too. Had a big atlas nearby for emergencies, but the flags were all guesswork and memorization. I did take a geography course in college, but it was about the science instead of learning about the places in the world. It was interesting.

        With the history courses I saw in school lately, there is some level of geography, but the main focus is on introducing a variety of cultures. I think the idea is to have students understand where a person comes from and how their culture works more than finding them on a map. Guess I can see how that is more helpful, but I wish both could be done.

        Liked by 1 person

      • ospreyshire says:

        Awesome! I was really into memorizing flags and I could still remember various designs to this day. The scientific aspects can be fun, too.

        Same here with the classes I took back then. Even then, it was still very limited.

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      • My memory for flags and dates has never been good. Thank god for the Internet.

        Liked by 1 person

      • ospreyshire says:

        The internet is certainly helpful. I’m better with country flags than local or regional flags unless it’s a few states in America.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You’re better than me then.

        Liked by 1 person

      • ospreyshire says:

        Don’t worry. I’m talking about verbally and intellectually.

        Like

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