Positivity and Self Harm

Some time ago I decided that maybe the problem is me. I’m too negative. I don’t practice gratitude enough. I invest too much energy in feeling sorry for myself. A better, more positive attitude would, surely, make me happier and nicer to be around?

So I scoured the internet for positivity memes, and I wrote them in my diary. Every time I felt the panic or despair coming on, I’d read them out loud. Everything happens for my highest good. My life is full of blessings. I am grateful for how good and rich my life is. That sort of thing, and other statements like it.

I did this for some days.

It did not result in me feeling happier, better, or more positive. It did however give me increasing feelings about the invalidity of my distress. I did not become more grateful. The final stage of this resulted in me crying, hysterical, howling things like ‘my life is so great and I feel so happy right now’ while pummelling my fists into my body. Which compared to the violence I wanted to perpetrate on myself at that point, was fairly mild. I had to be physically restrained, and it took me some considerable time to recover.

I can’t recommend it.

Trying to paste inauthentic ideas and feelings over the top of distress does not make the distress go away. It adds to the distress. If I hadn’t been in such an awful state to start with, I would likely have remembered that I think this kind of positivity is toxic. But I was desperate and in a great deal of pain, and I felt like the problem was me. This kind of ‘positive’ thinking perpetuates the idea that you, the individual, are the problem. Not your context, not your socio-economic status, not your health or the people around you, but you personally and how you ‘choose’ to think about things.

Not everything can be fixed by changing how you think about it. In some circumstances, trying to tell a more positive story might be a really dangerous thing to do. It certainly didn’t go well for me.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

9 responses to “Positivity and Self Harm

  • DiosRaw

    I agree. Sometimes it’s good to gradually introduce positivity and validate our true feelings. 🖤

  • druidcat

    ‘You’re so ungrateful’ was a common remark through my childhood. I’m not – but gratitude cannot (and should not) be forced.

  • Sheila Murrey

    Feel what you feel. ❤️🦋🌀🙏☯️

  • lornasmithers

    ‘Trying to paste inauthentic ideas and feelings over the top of distress does not make the distress go away. It adds to the distress.’ Absolutely. I think positivity has to come from processes that come naturally from within us or from outside us and can’t be forced. And that we should have to maintain a positive outlook at all times is also a presupposition that needs challenging.

  • Richard

    I don’t have whatever trait is required in this moment to offer you suggestions; it wouldn’t feel right, since I’ve never met you. But some other things it’s much easier to say: It seems from what I’ve of your writing so far that if I did meet you, I would like you. It also seems that you are most definitely worthy of love and empathy. I Hope those things reach you in abundance, and help you find the breathing space to look and think fearlessly and with self love.

    • Nimue Brown

      I think often the best thing we can do for each other is jsut tell the stories(if we have them) of what we’ve experienced, what we’ve tried, how that went – there’s often much to be gained from swapping notes and not feeling like we can or should fix each other.

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