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Researchers acknowledge the consequences of negative emotions and the benefits of positive emotions on our physical and mental wellbeing. Studies in positive psychology prove that people who react in a positive manner in the workplace have stronger relationships, greater psychological safety, and enhanced learning, creativity and motivation.
Ultimately, employee and organizational performance improves when positive emotions (i.e., optimism, gratitude) are more prevalent.
Positivity was never meant to exclude the experience of negative emotions. Toxic positivity is defined as the denial, suppression or _ignoring _of negative emotions.
It’s happiness at all costs and the belief that our interactions with family, friends, and coworkers must exclude anything that doesn’t feel positive.
It’s difficult to divulge how we are feeling in an honest way, especially when we feel pressured to confess an unpleasant emotion to our coworkers. Maybe we view this reaction as a sign of weaknesses or vulnerability, or maybe we are in denial about our true feelings. So, we put on a happy face and turn it towards the world, all while churning inside with anger, fear, shame, sadness or disgust.
When we suppress negative emotions, we fail to give ourselves or others a chance to grapple with them. The more we can improve expressing and receiving emotional responses, the more we can authentically share our positive and negative feelings in a healthy way. Managing emotions comes from building emotional intelligence (EI). It’s a skill that is honed over a lifetime. One study found that the mere act of labeling our feelings (a common EI technique) helps us release them.
The perspective we take is that some emotions are good, and others are bad. We convince ourselves that that if we can avoid the bad feelings and force the good feelings, everything will just fall into place. Actually, emotions are neutral. We label some of our emotions negative because they are hard for us to process, they feel unpleasant, and they require a great deal of our energy.
Cultivating a growth mindset starts with believing that we can change and grow over time to be better. Use this strategy to acknowledge that, in this moment, you are sad, angry, or fearful, but that you will work through it and come out better for it.
It is an internal dialogue that says, “I have dealt with hard things before, and I will again.” The difference between this mindset and toxic positivity is that you do not deny the negative, you just embrace a paradigm that allows you to feel the emotion and move through it.
If we want to allow for a better expression of emotion, we need to move beyond basic questions such as, “How are you?”, “Are you ok?” or “What’s wrong?” While these are common phrases, they don’t allow people to express what they are truly feeling. Consider the following alternatives:
The real emotion (fear, anger, sadness, contempt) is often the very one we want to avoid. They often feel painful, and we lack the skills to proactively manage them. Holding space allows us to process and express our feelings when we are ready. When we leave room to recognize our feelings, we might ask a question, share a compassionate perspective or just be in silence. Getting more comfortable with negative emotions ensures that you are not countering every difficult feeling with a positive response.
One of our previous consultants used to remind us: “You can’t tell your story while you are in it.” We often try and understand our situation too soon. Sometimes, we just need to be in the moment. Be okay with feeling sad. Be aware of our fears or recognize our anger. The lessons unfold over time.
“Should” is a trigger word. When we say that we “should” or “shouldn’t” be feeling something, it is a clue that we are not ready to move forward from our emotional state. Stay with what is. Avoid shaming someone (or yourself) for feeling a certain way or brushing things off when they really are a big deal to you
While “don’t worry and be happy” is great advice, don’t allow it to come at the expense of your true feelings. Emotions are your greatest teacher.
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