Stop It With the Silver Lining, Already!

Here’s what to do when you’re struggling but everyone’s pressuring you to think positive.

Stop It With the Silver Lining, Already!

By Dr. Gary McClain Published at May 4, 2016 Views 1,349

Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.

I am all about positive psychology. Staying optimistic. Being open to what’s possible in a difficult situation. Seeing the cup as half full and not half empty.

A client was recently telling me about the toll his chronic condition was taking on his life. He had to cut back on his responsibilities at work and this was affecting both his income and his self-esteem. I listened to him to him as he talked about his frustration and his fears about the future. He was feeling pretty bleak.

I encouraged him to look at his life from another angle: “You still have a job,” I said. “And it sounds like they value you enough to make accommodations for you.”

Here’s what my client said: “Stop it with the silver lining, already. Can’t we sit with how crummy I feel for a while?”

“Yes,” I answered. “We can do that.”

My client’s comment about the “silver lining” caused me to think. I often talk to my clients about how living with chronic conditions means living with changes that we didn’t choose. Not having control can leave you feeling helpless.

What about you? Are there times when life feels like you’re trying to climb a mountain, and every time you think you are on firm footing and can take a rest, the ground begins to crumble? Most likely, the people who care about you have times when they feel the same way. People like me.

When clients are telling me about an especially challenging time, I often get that human reaction that makes me want to jump in and make it better for them. That’s what feeling helpless can make us want to do, even those of us who hear sad stories for a living.

Positivity isn’t everything

I think there is a lot to be said for staying positive and looking for the silver lining. I think that’s how we maintain our perspective during hard times. I can’t be/do/have everything I want, but I can be/do/have this much. It’s not everything. But it’s something. Seeing the silver lining is seeing what’s possible, even if it seems to be obscured by all the dark clouds.

But I also recognize that sometimes we just need to sit and feel bad. Yes, even feel sorry for ourselves. Our feelings are our feelings. Taking the time to sit with the sadness, the disappointment, the frustration, can be therapeutic in its own way. We let the feelings in, they pass through us. But if we hold them in, or try to deny them, they get stronger.

Here are some things to keep in mind that can help you deal with all this.

Sitting with feelings helps us accept what we can’t change. And guess what? Acceptance of what we can’t change opens us up to what we can change. Yup, you knew I would find a way to get you back to the silver lining.

Don’t get bullied by the positive thinking police. Even if your loved ones or your therapist are the ones wearing the uniform. Being told to “think positive” or to “stop feeling that way” is a tactic of the positive thinking police. Jumping in with a “yes, but” and showering you in rainbows and puppy dogs is another tactic. Denying feelings doesn’t make them go away.

Advocating for yourself means demanding the right to feel bad. Just as my client did. Let the people around you know what you need and what you don’t need. You’re the one living with the chronic condition, and just as you are learning to listen to your own body, also learn to listen to your emotions.

Don’t sit all alone with all those negative feelings. Talk with someone who can listen without telling you how you should be feeling or judging you. Vent! Release the feelings into the light of day and they lose their power over you.

And don’t sit too long. There’s only one person who can manage your chronic condition, and that’s you. Sure, you took a fall. Now you have a choice. Choose to take the best possible care of yourself, emotionally, physically, spiritually. When you’re ready, dust yourself off and get back on the path. You can have your feelings without being your feelings.

Repeat after me: I have a right to feel as crummy as I want to feel for as long as I want to feel that way. That is your right. But I hope you’ll also look at what’s good in your life, what still makes you happy and gives you meaning. That’s the silver lining. And no chronic condition can take that away.

What helps you when you're feeling low about your chronic condition? Share your experiences and ideas in a comment below.

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