The world is a strange place right now. For many of us, we have experienced some major life changes during this pandemic and the statement, “the struggle is real” just seems to fit. Working from home, remote learning, missing out on your senior year of college, losing someone you love to COVID-19, the financial strain, and many other life changes have caused extreme distress for many.

Your Pain is Real

Ever heard the expression “pain is pain”? It’s a simple, and valid statement. When we experience distress, especially trauma, our brains are not differentiating levels of pain. We don’t say to ourselves “Well, this wasn’t as painful as that one time, so I must be fine.” Whether your pain is emotional, mental, or physical, your pain is real, and it is valid.

Toxic Positivity

Positivity on its own can be extremely helpful at times. For example, if you’re trying to lose 20 pounds and you’ve lost 10 pounds, focusing on the positives of your lifestyle change can be great motivation. Seems simple enough. Focusing on the positives can help get us through some really difficult times. So how can positivity become toxic? Toxic positivity happens when we invalidate someone’s feelings while trying to help. Comments like “it could be worse” or “focus on the positives” can seem extremely insensitive when someone is struggling. This has never been more prevalent than during this pandemic.

It is Okay to Grieve

Between mask wearing, shutdowns, social distancing, and financial strain, we are all being impacted in one way or another. If you’re struggling with working from home, your feelings are valid. If you’re upset because you can’t go to your favorite bar or restaurant, your feelings are valid. If you’re sad you couldn’t go to the hospital/nursing home/facility to see your loved one, your feelings are valid. If you’re frustrated that your holiday plans were impacted because of COVID, your feelings are valid. If you’re annoyed you didn’t get to go on that extended weekend to Traverse City with your three best friends and take that wine tour and hike pyramid point and then make your 4pm igloo reservation at M-22 (*Cough, cough*)… your feelings are valid. You can have these feelings and STILL care about others. You are allowed to feel what you’re feeling. Pain is pain.

We are being told that we need to “take advantage of this time.” We are told we should write a book, or learn a new language, or get in the best shape of our lives. But the truth is, people are struggling. And that’s okay. Should we try to make the best out of this weird time we are all living in? Yes. Is it okay to struggle and to grieve the loss of all the things we miss? Also, yes.

Use Validation Instead of Toxic Positivity

The increase in the amount of death by suicide announcements I have seen over the last year is absolutely devastating. Brene Brown said “What we don’t need in the midst of struggle, is shame for being human.” This feels especially true right now. Sometimes, we don’t need to be told that it “could be worse.” We need to be told “I know this is really hard.” When we are given permission to feel, we are given permission to exist. So, next time you see someone who expresses that they are struggling, try validating their feelings first and see how they respond. Below are some examples of how to use validation instead of toxic positivity. If you are struggling, reach out to a trained mental health professional to help you.

Toxic Positivity Validation
“It could be worse!” “I can see this is really hard for you. That sounds really difficult.”
“Everything happens for a reason.” “I’m so sorry you’re going through this.”
“Just stay positive.” “I see your pain, and I know how strong you are. How can I help?”

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