In the #TTC world, we hear it all of the time. “Don’t give up!” “You can do it!” “Just think positive thoughts!”
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am all for a positive mindset. As a mental health professional, I truly do believe our mindset dictates the way we feel. But what about when life is just down right hard? What happens when our reality is not all sunshine and rainbows? How about the times when our dreams are crushed and we are faced with a whole new set of decisions we are utterly unprepared for? At times like these, super positive phrases may actually be detrimental. Here is why…
Recently, as I was scrolling the depths of Instagram, I came across this image.
It caught my attention and made my wheels start turning. These words and phrases are ones we hear often and many of them were repeated to me during my own season of trying to conceive.
At the time, I remember thinking, “I wish people would just stop saying that.” As much as I wanted to believe those words, I also knew what a very real possibility it was that not everything turns out the way you hope it will. Before seeing this image, I never knew the term “toxic positivity” was a thing. But let me tell you this, it is spot on.
What exactly is toxic positivity? Toxic positivity occurs when, instead of validating your struggle, your hardship, your pain, you mask these deep and often painful situations with positive statements, allowing yourself only to think of good thoughts without actually recognizing and acknowledging your true feelings. Now, once again, positivity itself is not a bad thing. In fact, studies show that a hopeful mindset can lead to feelings of happiness and often success.
In my practice, I often encourage clients that I am working with to use positive affirmations, focus on the good, create an atmosphere of hope. All of these things are wonderful coping strategies to help alleviate anxiety and negative feelings. But here is the key, without first acknowledging and validating our struggle, uncovering our fears, accepting our ugly, raw, scary feelings, these tools are simply no good. Coping strategies like positive statements, are meant to be just that, a coping tool. Not a bandaid. Not a coverup. Not an escape.
In the world of infertility, we are often faced with sad, depressing, heart crushing news. We experience loss, both physical loss and loss of our visions for our future. We face very real, hard decisions. We tackle stressful medical procedures and tests. We know that all too often, things can go a very different way than the hopes we carry in our hearts. Living our lives with the mindset of toxic positivity renders our struggle invalid for it does not allow us to cope with the pain we experience.
So, what do I propose instead of toxic positivity? Let me introduce what I like to call realistic optimism. After looking at your hard, negative feelings head on, giving them a voice and pledging that they will not dictate how you move forward in your journey, grab onto your strength. Hold it tightly with both hands and vow to never let it go until you deem it necessary. Engage in self-care practices, advocate for yourself when you need something to change or look different, take a break when you need one. Carry your hope in your heart knowing that you will do all you can to fight the good fight, but that some things are out of your control. That is realistic optimism. Choosing to hold onto hope but being mindful of your situation.
Whether you are on this road to motherhood yourself or acting as a support for someone close to you who is fighting this battle, be mindful of the phrases and words you choose. Don’t throw the positivity out with the toxins. Make positivity work in your own life, for your own journey. This road is hard, but you are strong enough to find a way through.