Hopeful Optimism vs. Toxic Positivity

Taken from Psychology Today

by: Kristen Lee Ed.D., LICSW creator of: Rethink Your Way to the Good Life

Hopeful optimism involves a process of anticipating positive circumstances and improved outcomes. Science shows that imagining the future in such ways can help promote human flourishing, sustaining us through challenges and the opportunities to tackle our mountain of rotten lemons.

Forced optimism during sustained periods of trauma and grief can be counterproductive, and even harmful. Toxic positivity encourages us to deny dark emotions, even though they are proportionate to the times.

Here are some ways to nurture hopeful optimism and resist toxic positivity to promote personal healing:

1. Resist “lemonade propaganda.” The hardcore lemons of trauma are far from the Meyers kind that shows up in Harry and David gift baskets. It will take time to heal and detoxify from the giant influx of lemon juice concentrate we’ve been served. Oversimplified responses can exacerbate trauma. Not everyone’s lemons are the same; water and sugar are not always plentiful.

2. Name your pain. We can’t just skip over the sour. Primitive instincts can instigate denial or distraction approaches. Science shows that acknowledging and naming pain, both individually and collectively, can aid healing processes. Modern brain science reveals that facing and naming complex, challenging emotions can help us cope more effectively. When pain is validated, it can help create space for better understanding ourselves and one another.

3. Avoid continual marination in pain. None of us are meant to be ceviche. Lemon soaking 24-7 without respite can erode our well-being. Nurture your mind, body, and soul with proper sleep, nourishment, creative activities, and community. While trauma delivers many roadblocks, give yourself permission to breathe and cultivate some respite and joy to fuel your spirit of hopeful optimism, without pressuring yourself to be Zen or hyper-motivated.

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