My Problem With the 'Positivity Movement' as Someone With Depression


One thing that makes navigating mental illness difficult is the “positivity movement.” Not everyone is in 100 percent complete control of their own lives and emotions 24/7. We can’t always “choose to be happy,” and poof, everything will be better! I’ve already written about why I disagree that happiness is a choice, and in the same vein, positivity can be a problem too. 

There are times I really struggle because of my disability or mental illnesses. Both seriously interfere with my life, and at least one of them is permanent. That means that “thinking positively” or forcing myself to “find the good in everything” won’t magically make it all better. I find that the presumptions that, “I’ve brought my struggles upon myself,” and the solution is as easy as a perspective change makes my symptoms worse. Guilt is a major issue for some people who struggle with depression. Feeling guilty about being depressed when you have depression is a mental trap that’s too easy to get stuck in.

Some people will say that being positive doesn’t mean you ignore the negative. This is fine, except the terms are exact opposites. I can’t ignore the negative, and I can’t always make a choice to focus my energy somewhere else. But I don’t want to make myself miserable and only be negative all the time either. Depression is an illness, but it’s still possible to get yourself stuck in a miserably negative spiral.

So, where does that leave me? Apparently in a middle ground that may or may not exist. I believe in both. I don’t believe it’s healthy to aim for either positivity or whatever you want to call the opposite.

After some thought, I realized that what I really want is balance. I should be allowed to feel and express negativity without being made to feel like I caused it. I’m allowed to look at the positives without deciding that everything must have an upside or that everything about a negative situation has to be wonderful. So, I tried replacing “positive” with “balance” and felt a difference within days. Striving for this perspective isn’t easy, but for me it’s definitely worth it.

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Thinkstock photo via Ingram Publishing


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