Have you been should-ing yourself?
Micène Fontaine, November 26, 2020
November. I have been should-ing myself. I’ll explain shortly. For the past week, I’ve been waking up feeling nauseated. As a male, pregnancy is out of the question. So what’s going on? Having lived in this body for a while, I know its quirks all too well. Something is off-kilter, but what? It took me a while to get to it (denial) but here enters the should-ing I have been doing. It sounds like this: I should feel grateful. Better yet, I have no right to feel anything but grateful. I should embrace all that is going well in life. I should look at the bright side. I have been should-ing myself, and others have been should-ing me too: I hear I should focus more on the positive. Accept the things I cannot control and get over it. That all is well and as it should be. Ultimately, all of this should-ing weighs us down and has a name: Toxic positivity.
Dr. Jamie Long and Samara Quintero define toxic positivity as “the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations. The process of toxic positivity results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.” It’s feeling blue and being forced to sit in a painfully bright yellow room. It’s a well-intentioned - albeit misguided - attempt to make you feel better rather than meeting where you are now - emotionally. It seldom makes you feel better. Instead, shame and guilt get added to your emotional tab for not being the rosy version of yourself they (or you) wish you were.
If you want the rainbow, you have to deal with the rain.
- John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
Dwelling in negativity is NOT what I am suggesting (and none of the research does either). I am merely positing that it is healthier to acknowledge what we are feeling (whatever it may be). Make the space to express and process it. Be curious about it. Be gentle with ourselves and others. A recent Harvard Business Review article sums it up best: “It’s Okay to Not Be Okay” - even on Thanksgiving AND yet be grateful. Count me in on both counts.
I do have a lot to be thankful for: You and the ongoing trust you’ve placed in our programs are on that list. I am incredibly thankful for the architects, designers, and allied design professionals curious enough to participate in our courses about leveraging the power of design and architecture to solve significant societal issues. Many of the courses in our Change by Design series, for example, ask more questions than they provide answers. I know it has led me to feel sad, hopeful, discouraged, inspired, and empowered - often all at once. And that’s okay.
I am continually amazed by how the built environment affects us all - deeply. So, on Thanksgiving Day, I want to say thank you for showing up, doing the work you do, and making the world a better place in which all of us can thrive, in our own ways, at our own pace
Here is to you. All of you. Thank you.
PS: If you want to hear a serious yet lighthearted conversation about toxic positivity, I suggest an episode from the rePSYCHled podcast 🌦️ and if you need a visual reminder, there are beautiful artist's renderings of Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions on stickers, prints, and more - we get nothing if you don't buy from this artist or listen to the podcast and we still get nothing if you do. 🌈