How Constant Positivity Can Harm Our Emotional Well-being

Suzanne DePaolis avatar

by Suzanne DePaolis |

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A positive attitude has helped me get up each day and face the world. I know I feel stronger and ready to take on the planet this way. I can advocate for other patients and model that life is still worth living, despite having a chronic illness. A positive attitude has served me well over the years and has helped me overcome many obstacles.

Why is a positive attitude so important? Medical researchers will tell you that a positive attitude can help with healing and staying healthy. In a study published in The American Journal of Cardiology, experts from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that positive people are 13% less likely to have a heart attack or other coronary event. According to the Mayo Clinic, positive thinking helps with stress management and can even improve your health.

But does having a positive attitude come with a downside that nobody talks about?

I enjoy compliments about my positive attitude toward my life and my disease. I consider it my superpower. I appear to remain positive no matter what is thrown at me. The truth is, sadly, very different. Everyone has a public and a private self. My public self is positive and self-assured. My secret self is full of anxiety, sadness, and self-doubt. These two selves may seem to be at odds with each other, but in truth, embracing both helps me to cope with my eosinophilic granulomatosis with polyangiitis (EGPA).

Being positive all the time is exhausting. It is unsustainable. Just as constant negativity can be harmful, constant positivity can be, too.

When it comes to illness, feeling all of your emotions is essential. It’s OK to be happy, sad, frightened, and confused. I need to be careful not to cover up my other emotions while being outwardly positive. I’ve spent too much time being positive for the sake of others rather than processing my true feelings. I had put my emotional well-being in jeopardy.

It’s OK not to be positive all the time. I’ve had a lot to process in the 14 years since my EGPA diagnosis. I learned how to grieve the loss of my health. I had to admit I have limitations, and that this doesn’t mean my life has ended; it just means I have to approach things differently.

I apologized many times to other people for my disease. I mistakenly thought that by making others feel better about my condition, I would magically feel whole. I found myself hiding under a mask of positivity. I was not healing, I was slowly emotionally dying.

It took four years to realize that my outward positivity was hiding a lot of inner pain. I didn’t think I would survive my illness if I wasn’t outwardly cheerful. I thought positivity was the magic pill for my incurable disease. When I could no longer hide behind my mask of positivity, I emotionally and mentally crashed. I felt like I was falling with nobody to catch me. I was scared, and a friend guided me to help.

My psychologist told me to stop faking positivity. She encouraged me to let my real feelings out. I started healing myself. I learned valuable lessons about fake positivity. It’s OK to let the negative feelings and sadness flow through me. The key was not to dwell and get stuck on any one emotion. The emotions needed to flow through and become part of me, and then I needed to move forward.

This whole experience was uncomfortable, and there were times I wanted to run out of therapy screaming. I stuck with it and learned to be genuinely positive and negative, and to feel all of my emotions. I learned to stop hiding behind a mask of positivity.

I want to encourage others to be positive, but not to hide behind a positivity mask while ignoring all of your other emotions. It’s OK to not be positive all the time.


Note: ANCA Vasculitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ANCA Vasculitis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ANCA vasculitis.


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