Nontoxic Equanimity

Having written posts on toxic negativity and positivity in the past, I was really happy to hear the last part of an NPR presentation on toxic positivity this morning. I wanted to hear it, so I searched and couldn’t find it. I was bummed, because I liked the fact that the therapist being interviewed talked about how not all positivity is bad and that some negativity may well be justified.

angry suna
This was my sweaty face of negativity when I found out someone spoofed my Instagram account yesterday.

Finally, my brain kicked in and I found the article on the website of my local station, KUT. They have great original programming, too! If you get a chance, read the transcript or listen to the interview.

So, in her discussion with the KUT reporter, Junice Rockman makes the point that a lot of us are looking for the good things in life right now, since there’s so much ickiness going on in 2020 (obviously she didn’t say ickiness). And that’s fine. As the interview pointed out:

“…there is nothing wrong with positivity, as long as it is not used to:

  • deny
  • disconnect
  • disregard
  • disassociate, or
  • dismiss someone else’s ideas.”

That rang true to me. Some of the things I’ve heard and memes I’ve read seem to insist that you’re not good enough if you can’t always be positive. Your just not trying hard enough, don’t love yourself enough, or are just trying to be Debbie Downer.

Who me? I’m Penney Positive!

The heart of the matter is that it’s unrealistic to expect people to be either happy all the time, or eternally sad failures. To me that’s just common sense. Rockman says this kind of all-or-nothing thinking doesn’t work.

It’s like a pendulum. It has to be all one thing or not. It’s helpful for us to move away from that all-or-nothing thinking. It doesn’t have to be either-or. It can be both.

Junice Rockman, KUT, 7/29/2020
By the way, to make me positive, just show me a picture of my son and his little family. Aww. Photo shamelessly appropriated and used without permission.

And that’s it. We can be positive about one thing and negative about another, and they can coexist! These days a lot of us are having a hard time. We have lost jobs, are lonely, are sick, or upset by the news. That is absolutely okay, and it can’t hurt to also find what’s still pretty good. Really, isn’t life always this way?

Even in good times we have challenges. My goal is to have a healthy viewpoint and put my feelings into perspective. That means when I climb out of despair, I don’t run straight up Pollyanna Mountain! When I talk to people in my life, I’m going to mention things that bother me as well as things that bring joy.

And if someone judges me for veering off to one side or another, they may need to check for their own toxicity and cut me some slack. I’ll return the favor. My brain is too full to be all judgy right now. I love everybody who’s doing the best they can.

Now, onto the challenges of the day!

The Dreaded Negativity Spiral

In her newsletter today, Nataly Kogan of Happier Now, shared this tidbit that spoke to me:

Here’s the question I ask myself that helps me to immediately pause my negative thought spiral when I get caught in one:

Is this way of thinking helpful?

The answer is always no. Every single time. It’s amazing how simple yet powerful this question is.

Once I realize that indulging my negative thoughts isn’t helpful, I can make a choice to shift. It’s not always easy, but it’s absolutely possible.

Happier, with Nataly Kogan, July 28, 2020

At this very moment, I’m not in a negativity spiral; in fact I’m feeling as normal as a person getting ready for a reorg and dealing with sick people all around me can feel. But, from what I hear and from my own experience, the negativity can jump out and make its presence known quite suddenly and quickly. I think even the most resilient among us is finding it challenging to keep looking to the bright side these days.

The shift from negativity that Kogan refers to is what intrigues me. It seems like there may be lots of ways to accomplish this, and I’d be interested in knowing how some of you do it.

A couple of my strategies are:

  • Get going with the supportive self talk. Remind yourself that you are doing your best and your best is good enough, in fact, great!
  • If it’s someone’s actions or words that send you toward negativity, see if you can come up with a possible motivation or intent that is positive; remembering things don’t always come across the way people intend them to.
  • If you’re overcome with a mood out of nowhere, quickly engage in your favorite mood-changing activities: take a walk, do deep breathing, sing, visit your favorite funny meme or video site. The sooner you do it, the less chance that a mood can grip you for long.

Being good to ourselves really helps us be more resilient and optimistic (okay, some of us are aiming for neutral, I know). Nataly Kogan also gave out these ideas today, so I’ll share them, too:

Thanks, Nataly!

While I’m at it, I’m going to reach out to a couple of people I know are not feeling well, which always helps me feel more positive, myself.

Onward in good cheer!

Where Did I Go?

True, the blogging machine known as Suna didn’t write anything for a few days. Just the effort I was taking to keep on an even keel over the weekend was all I could manage. I was already feeling pretty useless and unhelpful to the people in my life, and it all came to a head, and I felt crappy. I realized I hadn’t been doing a good job supporting my family, their business, my friends, and blah blah blah. I slipped back into my old habit of telling my own self I suck.

Scarab beetles and thistles made for Mother’s Day cheer.
A phaon crescent butterfly visits an Indian blanket flower.

I know I am not Suzy Sunshine. It’s just not my nature. Maybe it’s being a Pisces. We tend to have melancholy in us, and to always see both sides of things, happy and sad. I like it that I enjoy feeling all my feelings and honestly think that’s healthy, for me. But, I know it comes across poorly to others sometimes, and I’m sorry.

Because I certainly didn’t want to burden others with my own self-inflicted issues, I put a lot of energy into trying to have fun this weekend. Then, boom, Lee told me this morning that I’d seemed all mopey yesterday. That was with me TRYING not to be! Lordy!

I love watching roses blossom. Thanks, Lee.

All you can do is try to do better, right? But, once I get into one of my rare really down periods, I am not able to immediately crawl back out. I will, though! I know I actually don’t suck. And usually my brain, subconscious, or whatever it is that sends me into a downward spiral, agrees with me. I don’t appreciate how poorly it deals with negative feedback one bit! But hey, I’ll work on it!

The wildflower bouquet I made, after the beetle flew off.

Not much could have made my Mother’s Day any better. Everyone was so kind. Chris made perfect omelets for breakfast for me and Kathleen, Lee sent me roses on Friday, I got a little box of cheer from Chris and Kathleen, I got calls from all sorts of friends and family, and I heard from many of my sweet children and bonus children. A friend even dropped off a little trinket for me in my mailbox. What a sweet surprise!

Pure white beauty.

We spent the day relaxing, while Chris fired up his extra cool barbecue machine and made his professional quality ribs and chicken for dinner, which my sister was able to come and enjoy. It really was a lovely day, and I truly appreciate everyone’s efforts and kindness.

A yellow rose, in Texas.

Shoot, if I can manage to be a mess through all that great stuff…I’ll just blame the virus, the stress it puts on all of us, and just being a human. I have a book report and some beautiful horse photos coming for you, when I get breaks from work, and I hope they bring YOU some cheer.

Toxic Negativity: Much Less Controversial

My post yesterday about toxic positivity led to a couple of really good discussions, both in person and in chat. I can’t tell you how great it feels to know that I can start conversations that lead to greater understanding and new insights. So, thanks to all of you who gave me input yesterday. One big point that came out is that choosing to see the good in your life is not the same as forcing yourself to be positive and ignoring everything else. I’m taking that to heart.

Negative Nellies (and Neds)

Nothing good will come of this.

As for the opposite of toxic positivity, I think we all have had experiences with people who seem resolutely focused on seeing the negative in everything that goes on. I doubt that there’s anyone out there trying to make the point that focusing on what’s wrong is a good strategy for a peaceful and fulfilling life (and obviously not for contentment!).

I know I’ve had people in my friend, church, and work circles that can take a neutral comment and find the bad in it, and who can stop a happy discussion dead in its tracks. You can see people leaving the break room when they come in, suddenly having to excuse themselves in conversations, and getting that deer in the headlights look during meetings. Trying to bring the conversation back around to something else always tends to be a challenge with these folks.

Of course, they have their good points. They can be intelligent, hard working, generous, and empathetic. They just can’t see the good in the world, for reasons only they know. That makes people avoid them and reinforces their negative viewpoint.

Can It Be Cured?

People are just who they are.

Not by us regular folks. We generally can’t fix people like this by pointing out how their behavior comes across; in fact, that reinforces negativity. Professional help can do wonders, and I’ve seen that, so there’s hope if people are willing to work on it.

What to do, then? I always try to make the negative ones feel heard and respected, which is important to me and how I’d want to be treated. After all, their feelings are theirs and they are legitimate, for them. I do try to gently suggest another perspective or move to another topic when possible.

It does make me want to flee.

It’s interesting, though, that toxically negative people also tend to be ones who doggedly hold on to their agenda and actively resist changing the subject or manage to turn any topic into their negative item of the day (a trait that really amazes me when I sit back and look at it dispassionately). I knew someone who could take a conversation about chocolate ice cream and turn it into the problems with their child. Amazing, really.

So yeah, negative people need support, friendship, and love. But, if you are someone who get affected by the moods of those around them or have empathic tendencies, you may just have to choose your own well being over the needs of the negative. I do that, when I can, and limit my interactions with negative-biased people I can’t avoid.

Realistic Thoughts

A great way to deal with the negative folks is a nice bath in rose milk, a fizzy facial, and red stuff in your hair. Okay, that’s what works for ME.

Like the extra-positive folks we talked about yesterday, people aren’t all on the extremes. There’s lots of middle ground. Many of us who have an automatic panic over-reaction to change or bad news just need a little time to process before looking at things more realistically. Guilty as charged. Talking things through works, once we calm down. And people who look a little too positively at things can benefit from being reminded to consider the possible consequences before jumping into things that look like a good idea on the surface.

I had to end on a bit of humor!

In the end, we can use our tendencies to help balance each other out if we’re patient and realize that folks just are wired differently or react to experiences in different ways. Perhaps the extremes won’t be able to modify their behavior, but most of us can listen and learn. Let’s be patient with each other and talk together about how our internal processes work differently, rather than putting down people who react differently. It might work!

Hey, You! Stop Doing That!

I feel like crap.

First off, let me admit that I’m in a more fragile and sensitive state than usual, so things I might usually brush off as, “Oh, that’s just Person X being person X,” are hitting a raw nerve today. And as we noted with Vlassic last week, hitting a nerve can cause pain and involuntary reactions. Ow!

At first I was thinking that I was just bugged by stuff on Facebook, but then I spot the annoyances popping up in LinkedIn articles, Tweets (naturally, and why am I reading Twitter when I’m feeling overwhelmed?), and even in face-to-face interactions.

It happens all the time, and is one of those habits I started noticing when I had small children and was practicing very hard to adhere to the directive to:

Give information, not advice

La Leche League

The idea was that people don’t react well when told what to do and what to think about any topic (breastfeeding being a great example). My training also reminded me over and over again not to give out advice if I wasn’t asked for it. In other words, if someone parents differently from me, that’s their right, and it may well be working out just fine for them.

Continue reading “Hey, You! Stop Doing That!”

Why Is Facebook So Happy? Or Is It?

I have a Facebook friend (I’ll call her MR, since those are her initials) whose wisdom I admire very much. I’d like to share some of her thoughts and add my own. She recently posted:

As I scroll the feed and see endless perfection and happiness, I reflect on my childhood, youth, teens, to adulthood and reaffirm to myself how unrealistic and unhealthy social media can be if taken literally. This is molding our children[;] many false beliefs and visuals are creating a society stricken with major depression, high anxiety and extremely low self esteem.

Faccebook post, March 11, 2019
Come sit a while in my favorite chair, since I have a lot to say again today.

This friend has recently experienced the loss of a young adult child, and has shared her grief experience and thoughts about her son very openly and honestly. I really appreciate this, because I’ve learned a lot, and her perspective has helped me with my own young adult children and their issues (that’s right; my children have issues). She continues:

As I continue to walk through my life, experiencing the rolling hills, twists, turns and storms, I’m realizing and confirming it’s through my imperfections and dysfunction that helps define who I am.

MR, on Facebook

Any of you who know me personally will recognize that sentiment as something I’ve conveyed many times in one way or another. I firmly believe that if you never screw up, your path to wisdom and inner peace will be long and hard. We grow through our mistakes, learn to forgive and accept forgiveness through them, and gain a sense of community by sharing what we learn.

Continue reading “Why Is Facebook So Happy? Or Is It?”