Life Check Yourself Episode 385 Why Being Happy is Blocking You From Being Real with Whitney Goodman
Marni welcomes Whitney Goodman, the psychotherapist behind the widely popular Instagram account Sit With Whit, to look into why toxic positivity should be dismantled and what methods should be put into place instead. Having just released her debut book, Toxic Positivity: Keeping it Real in a World Obsessed with Being Happy, Whitney breaks down the psychology behind toxic positivity and society’s need to constantly be happy. The duo discusses how learning to speak to yourself or someone going through a challenging situation is one of the first steps to pulling apart this constant need to be in a good place. In allowing ourselves to feel what we feel, even when it’s negative, we begin to live authentically. A life well-lived is not one without suffering or pain, contrary to popular belief.
Takeaways from this episode:
- What are empathy blockers?
- Validation is key
- Why do we always feel the need to look on the bright side?
- Happiness isn’t a destination
- How to eliminate toxic positivity
- Throw out the positive platitudes
Learn to Sit With the Discomfort [02:26]
Our go-to when we’re feeling down or when someone we love is hurting is to immediately try and fix the situation by convincing ourselves or them to look on the bright side. It’s something that’s done, almost as a reflex both internally and within our relationships. And it can be toxic.
It’s this notion of wanting to get back to that happy place, rather than actually feel what we’re feeling. And it’s that foundational belief that drives us to immediately force ourselves to look at the positives or minimize whatever it is that’s bothering us. Enter toxic positivity.
I think that’s what drives most of the toxic positivity. It’s that ‘I want to be helpful; I want to help the other person feel better, and I want to get out of this uncomfortable space.’ We have to learn to sit with discomfort.
Whitney iterates that for the most part, a person going through something just wants their partner, or their friend to be with them in their experience, and let them know that they’re not going anywhere. Letting the person in front of you know that you’ve got their back, and that they don’t have to go through it alone is ultimately what matters. But as a society, we need to learn to be okay with not being okay sometimes. It’s understanding that life is about living meaningfully, which comes with feelings of sadness or angst at certain points. It’s not about being happy 24/7.
The Road to Toxic Positivity is Paved With Good Intentions [ 09:49]
While most of us revert to (toxic) positivity with good intentions, the damages are palpable. Repeating these positive platitudes that we’ve all grown accustomed to hearing and giving is not necessarily what a person going through a rough time is looking for. It’s important rather to validate the difficulty of the situation, and try to understand how that person feels. Asking how they want you to show up for them goes a long way, and that’s bearing in mind that sometimes they won’t necessarily have the answer themselves. And that’s okay, too.
These positive statements that we’re constantly saying on loop, are not necessarily negative in and of themselves, but it’s in relation to the context and the timing in which they’re being said. Because hearing “it’ll turn out okay”, or “everything happens for a reason” when you’re going through a bout of depression, or struggling with feelings of grief, won’t make a difference when it comes to the weight you currently feel like you’re carrying on your shoulders.
How to Show up [18:50]
When your partner or someone you love is going through a challenge, they sometimes can’t verbalize their needs at that particular moment, simply because they don’t know what they want or what would alleviate the situation. It’s something we’ve all felt at one point or another. Asking too many questions can be aggravating when you don’t even have the answer to one. So, how do you show up for them in the way you’re supposed to?
In these instances, Whitney explains that it’s important to regulate yourself and your reaction. Rather than think, ‘I’ve done this exactly the way I’m supposed to, why isn’t it working?”, remind yourself that it isn’t about you. The person in front of you is the one feeling dysregulated.
Take a step back and understand that people are allowed to feel their feelings, and in whichever way suits them. And that applies to you, too. It’s this concept of allowing the person to be where they are in that moment. And reminding yourself that it’s got nothing to do with you.
You taking care of you when someone is not feeling great is just as important as you not trying to silver-line it or make them feel better. Control the things you can control.
This is especially the case in relationships, when one partner comes home and has just had a bad day, and their spouse immediately goes into “fix it” mode, then gets upset when they don’t manage to actually fix it. Sometimes, your partner is just having a bad day because they are. And we’re all allowed to have moments when we’re in a bad mood, or just not feeling the day. That’s life.