Psychiatrist Victor Frankl defines tragic optimism as saying “yes” to life despite the loss, pain, and guilt that we must face. While toxic positivity insists that we should only have a positive mindset, tragic optimism encourages us to feel difficult emotions that come from tragedy and find the meaning in them.
We at Bright Side think that being positive is very important, but it isn’t always the only answer to a crisis. Here are the reasons why.
We’re ignoring the real harm it could do to us.
Being positive in an emergency can, in some cases, be harmful to us. For example, people who are in an abusive relationship may play down the severity of the abuse and choose to remain in the relationship. They’ll be overly optimistic, having hope that their abusers will change, thus forgiving them for it.
We’re denying our real feelings.
When we force ourselves to merely look on the bright side, we’re suppressing negative emotions, which could make them even more powerful. These feelings could erupt one day, especially when we’re dealing with a tragedy. We could even feel ashamed or guilty for having these difficult feelings. By remaining positive, we’ll be less likely to ask for help because we think we’re perfectly fine and don’t need any.
We aren’t able to grow through the crisis.
Making “positive vibes only” our mantra can kill our ability to face challenges head-on. By avoiding negative emotions, we can lose valuable information. Let’s say a woman just lost someone important to her. If she simply dismisses her grief, she might still be in denial that the person is never coming back and might not be able to handle the funeral arrangements or even life after the person is gone.
Optimism alone isn’t enough.
That being said, being optimistic is still important, but it shouldn’t be the only thing we acknowledge when handling a crisis. We should still feel pain, but we can flip the script by turning our suffering into achieving something. Guilt is a normal human emotion that we shouldn’t shy away from, but through it, we can seize the chance to change for the better. When faced with loss, we should still feel grief, but we can learn from this feeling and live life to the fullest.
Meaning gives hope to handling tragedy.
Despite what life throws at us, if we can find meaning behind it, we can move forward and one day find real happiness in life. Hope allows us to balance the terrible things that are happening right now with the possibility that we can experience meaning out of tragedy. This is the core of “tragic optimism,” which is perhaps the antidote to “toxic positivity.”
How do you handle a problem? Do you focus only on the good or the bad, or do you take them all into consideration?