The Positivity Assault and The Need to Stand Up and Feel
You might feel really bad right now. And that’s really healthy.
You are supposed to feel awful, to feel broken, and to unravel at times. That is not just okay, that is vital. There is a deep undercurrent veiled as women’s empowerment that is serving to shut this down. Take a deep breath, and instead of “letting go”, let’s get real.
Emotional Discordance and the Angry Lion
Feeling well when the world around you is in crisis isn’t only unattainable (without copious amounts of mind numbing substances), but it’s also emotionally discordant. If you have a hungry lion in your living room, the problem isn’t that you’re not doing enough to be happy or to address your anxiety. The problem is that you have a big hungry terrifying lion in your living room. That’s what you need to deal with. You can leave your home, go to therapy to process it, or do yoga to settle your nerves, but your lion is waiting for you when you return, often hungrier and angrier than before. Your fear in this situation has a purpose. Don’t take a smiling selfie and crop him out… be present and in touch with your responses, allow the adrenaline to kick in, and act accordingly.
Unless you are actively involved and already doing something to address the circumstances around you, feeling well doesn’t make sense. That is actually the sign that something may be deeply wrong.
Stop the “Lightwashing”
“Choosing happiness”, “bathing in love & light”, and “good vibes only” are terrible messages. These communicate on a deep level that we need to reject a vital and very significant part of our Self. What “lightwashing” or as I prefer to call it “assaultive positivity” really communicates is that there is no room for anything except feeling “good” or “above it”. Anything other than this is “less than” and “lower.” The damage that this causes individually and to our culture at large is significant.
This marketed mission of “no room for negativity” creates a dynamic where women are pressured to be “happy”, often at the cost of their true mental health and well being. On an individual level, this results in rejection of anything that undermines this “happiness”. Those who have experience with anxiety know that trying to be happy in the face of misery only makes anxiety and guilt around it that much worse.
On a global level, this dangerous message supports the choice to be “not political” or choosing silence to avoid compromising one’s “vibe”. However, as wise leaders have shown us time and again, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. (Desmond Tutu)”
Feeling fully at ease during times of unease is often a result of a panacea as opposed to true, authentic happiness. Many prominent Lifestyle brands normalize and even promote drinking heavily or misusing tools such as Mindfulness as a means of tuning out as opposed to tuning in. Though everyone needs to breathe and pause, the “good vibes only” lifestyle is simply not sustainable, and not healthy. Regardless of what these prominent, smiling faces on Instagram and your Facebook feed are showing you, all of us are feeling at least a little unwell. Hopefully a lot.
Great thanks, I’m angry now. What do I do with that?
It’s important now more than ever not to push away the discomfort or sadness, but to step fully into it. If you’re feeling something (anything) you’re on the right track. Anxiety and turmoil within often have both an origin and purpose, and can be our bodies way of speaking to us. There’s something we need to do/say/act/process/heal that we are not. Instead of shutting that down, try exploring what it is that this is telling you. Honor it and communicate with it. (Please note: anxiety is not a conscious response, and therefore not something we can consciously alter. Taking active steps does not imply one’s personal responsibility or control over their anxiety, and this is often best suited for the therapeutic relationship to guide you through.)
One of the most effective ways of managing anxiety or unease is to channel it. In other words, validating the feeling, listening to what your Self is telling you, and then producing something meaningful with that. This can be in the form of seeking out and attending an event, getting involved with local organizations that promote social justice such as the YWCA, or volunteering in your community. It can also be personally connecting with your Self in the form of writing or creating art. Anything one can do to tune in and honor their whole experience and range of emotions is a step in the right direction. Individuals who are tuned in and Awake… this is what our society needs most right now.
Do I still focus on spending the love?
Yes, but remember: Love isn’t “nice”. Love is fierce and protective. It is a deeply powerful force that can push us to heights we never thought were possible. Real love is active, dynamic, painful, and beautiful.
Light is important for survival, but just as important as the darkness. Let the upcoming solar eclipse be a profound reminder of what happens when we stare too deeply into the light. In all things in life, there needs to be balance.
With love, pain, light, dark, and everything in between,
To my local community, there is a Charlottesville Solidarity Vigil at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Ridgewood NJ tomorrow, August 16, 2017 at 7:30pm to “lift the dignity of all human beings and speak against any forms of hatred.”
A Note about Standing Together:
I, as the voice of Enodia Center have always stood for equality, social justice, and fierce protection for our sisters and brothers. I firmly maintain that when this is threatened, it’s important to stand up in solidarity. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, my Code of Ethics states with no ambiguity that I am “to promote social justice and social change with and on behalf of… individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. Social workers are sensitive to cultural and ethnic diversity and strive to end discrimination, oppression, poverty, and other forms of social injustice. These activities may be in the form of… advocacy, social and political action.” It may not be the most neutral road, but it is the most important one, and I hope other social workers, business owners, “women’s empowerment” entrepreneurs, individuals, and anyone who has a voice will continue to stand up together.