Toxic Positivity

Recently I overheard a friend listening to some sort of motivational speaker on Zoom. It gave me the creeps. The man actually said that Stephen Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” was his personal hero. Ugh.

This speaker was a living, breathing business pep talk. Hearing his over-the-top enthusiasm and encouragement and his assurance that if you think positively, you’ll definitely get what you’re after, made me think, “This dude is about 45 seconds away from forming a cult.”

Don’t get me wrong. I think Covey’s 7 habits have their place, but he is no hero. I think enthusiasm and motivation are wonderful, as long as they don’t turn into a form of criticism or a way to not listen to what others have to say. I’ve even been known to say “An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along” on this blog, and my first book is about gratitude. But these things should be part of the overall balance.

If you’re an unrelenting Pollyanna who sees sunshine and lollipops wherever you go, then you are, frankly, delusional. There are negative aspects of life. These negative things have a need to be acknowledged, too. They, too, shouldn’t be the only things you focus on, but there’s nothing wrong with having mixed emotions, or feeling sad or angry sometimes. It’s perfectly natural.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. I was really happy to see this article in Bloomberg entitled, “Trying to Stay Optimistic Is Doing More Harm Than Good.” It makes several interesting points.

If you know someone who is living on the financial razor’s edge due to this pandemic and is telling you his or her story, for example, then perhaps you shouldn’t respond with a sentence that starts with, “Well, at least…” That sentence shows you are not hearing that person, and you’re not willing to hear them. You’re not letting them vent their anxiety. You’re not acknowledging something that is hugely impacting their lives. (And frankly, you’re being rude.)

If you are a toxically optimistic boss, you pretty much make it impossible for your team to speak up and point out issues that need fixing. If you insist that all your zoom meetings start off with some positive bit of news in the midst of a pandemic with a heaping side order of political and financial unrest, you are not acknowledging entirely legitimate sides of your staff. You’re making them cut themselves in half to feel like they’re team players.

Sometimes things suck. Sometimes people are discouraged and depressed. That’s okay as long as it isn’t the only thing they ever are. Well rounded, mature individuals know that the emotional pendulum tends to swing back and forth. Personally, I take comfort in that. If I don’t like how I’m feeling at the moment, I know from repeated experience that it will eventually change. This, too, shall pass.

Further, if you make people feel as though there’s something wrong with them if they’re not positive 100 percent of the time, then they will seek relief in all the wrong places. They may fall into depression or abuse substances. They may become victims of Ponzi schemes in an effort to gain instant success. They may fall victim to Prosperity Theology, thinking that if their attempts to think positively won’t help, then maybe if they just donate more to religion, the money will come back to them tenfold. That’s magical thinking at its worst. At a minimum, they’ll think they’re not good enough.

People who insist you always have to have a gung-ho, can-do spirit are setting you up for failure. You really are allowed to have a whole host of emotions. Most of those emotions will be relatively fleeting. If not, it’s time to seek help.

According to the article mentioned above, people feel more sad, not less, when they’re expected to hide those emotions. Yes, do your best to look at things in a positive light. Be grateful for the good in your life. Count those blessings as often as you like. But know that it’s okay to get frustrated or annoyed or stressed out or upset sometimes. It wouldn’t be normal if you didn’t have those feelings every once in a while.

Give your cloudy side a great big hug, knowing it has a place within you, too. The full spectrum of your emotions should be allowed to come out and play as needed. If not, they’ll manifest themselves one way or another. They don’t go away. They insist on being heard.

Namaste.

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Get Back

Recently, I watched someone leave, knowing I’d never see her again, and I thought, “I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see the back of someone in my entire life.” I wanted to dance around. I wanted to sing, “Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead.” (Oh hell, I’ll admit it. I actually did.)

It’s not the first time I’ve felt this way, and it probably won’t be the last. Unfortunately, there are a lot of toxic people in this world. It’s amazing how much their poison ripples outward, splashing all over those who are unfortunate enough to reside within their realm of influence.

I’ve also seen more than one person walk away forever, knowing I’d miss them very, very much. There are a few that I still occasionally cry over. People leave for a variety of reasons. Everyone has a different path to take in this world, and sometimes two paths can run parallel for a time, and then completely diverge. It’s part of life. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.

This got me thinking about backs in general. Turning your back can actually be aggressively rude, as was demonstrated to me quite recently by someone who wanted to make a point of telling the world that she did not want to acknowledge my existence. It came off as awfully childish and dysfunctional, but to each her own.

And then there’s the fact that no one can be as intimately familiar with one’s own back as others are. I have no idea what the back of my head really looks like. I mean, I’ve seen pictures, and have looked at mirrors aimed at mirrors, but it’s not the same. I don’t know what I look like when I walk away. I don’t think I’d recognize myself in a crowd if my back were turned.

The bottom line is that backs can be warm and cuddly, vulnerable, hostile, regal, defeated, strong, heartbreaking, excruciatingly painful, or a blessed, blessed relief. Maybe I should stop griping about the aches and pains mine gives me, and appreciate its complexity a bit more.

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Sweet Relief

Unless you have no pulse at all, you are carrying stress within you, even as you read this. We all do. It’s part of modern life. It comes from a feeling of being overwhelmed, and thinking that you can’t cope with a situation.

According to Wikipedia, that font of all human knowledge, stress can increase the risk of strokes, heart attacks, ulcers, and mental illnesses such as depression. So needless to say, stress is bad for you.

What I find particularly scary is how easily I fool myself into thinking I’ve gotten used to a certain level of anxiety. It’s as if I am coping simply because I’ve come to expect that I will have to wade through some crap, and that’s just the cost of doing business.

That doesn’t mean the stress, with all its toxic side effects, has disappeared. It just means that I’ve resigned myself to it. That’s problematic, because it also means that I’m no longer trying to do anything to relieve that stress. I’ve concluded that there’s no solution, so I just bathe in it, regardless of the pollution this brings into my world. After a while, I seem to forget it’s happening.

But every once in a while, some fortuitous thing occurs that removes a stressor from my life. That happened just this month. And the change within me has been profound. I started off by feeling slightly sick from the sheer release. Then I felt as though 500 pounds had been lifted off my shoulders. Freedom! Sweet relief.

And then there was the inevitable shock that I had been carrying that weight for so long without even realizing it. (Actually, I knew of about 50 pounds of it, but not the full 500.) It makes me wonder what other burdens I’m carrying. No wonder I’m so tired much of the time.

I think I need to work on being more aware of what my body is trying to tell me. I need to address issues whenever possible, even though I hate confrontation. I need to stop walking around with my head in the clouds and take better care of me.

In the meantime, I’m going to go do a happy dance to celebrate my newfound freedom. Woot!

Happy Dance

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Neurological Methane

I seem to have been thrown into a wood chipper of insults the week before I wrote this. At various times I was called unprofessional, lazy, cruel, ignorant, and a liar. These pronouncements were made by people who clearly know me not at all.

I’d also been informed that my apparent past cruelty has generated a very long, narcissistic, bitter, self-indulgent poem in which the author beats himself up for being ugly, a loser, and the stuff of nightmares, rather than the all-American boy of my dreams; dreams that anyone who bothered to scratch the surface would know are of a kind that I never have had and never will have. I’ve never sought perfection. What would I do with it?

I’m not that shallow, and those types of insults are not in my nature. That, and it would take a special kind of person to be that lowly and beneath contempt so as to merit some iron-clad, lifetime-guaranteed seal of disapproval from me. From a purely statistical standpoint, most of us, this person included, are average. (So sorry to disappoint you out of your exaggeration.) That’s not an insult, it’s just a fact.

I’m average. You’re average. The average person is, well… average. If you think you stand out that much, you think way too highly (or lowly) of yourself.

But this is a person who wears his wounds on his chest like badges of honor, a man in his 50’s who still blames the shit we all go through in high school for his current misfortunes. It saddens me, but no one can heal him. He can only heal himself. And to do that, he must first fall out of love with the cruel, cruel world in which he seems to take a perverse pleasure in dwelling.

Ah, but if the world is cruel, you don’t have to try, do you? Failure is pretty much guaranteed. No need for higher education or taking risks or making an extra effort that way! You need not stick your neck out at all. Whew. What a relief!

Why do we give the negative so much extra weight? We all do it. These things ferment in our brains, producing gasses that seem to alter our judgment and perspective in the most toxic of ways. Neurological methane.

Hmmm. Maybe I’ve been tossed into the insult blender for a reason. It’s an opportunity for growth. But I’m not gonna lie. It smarts. And it stinks. But then growth isn’t always pretty.

This much I know: I’ve wasted entirely too much time trying to reconcile my knowledge of the person that I am with the opinions that I’ve been tarred and feathered with this week. Why do I let them clog my pores when I’ve received so many more compliments than insults in my lifetime?

You can give someone a million compliments, support them financially and emotionally, do everything you can to broaden their horizons, and yet all that is forgotten based on some remark that you can’t remember or even imagine having said. That’s the remark that generates a poem. (Or, let’s face it, a blog post.)

Insults are somehow more emotionally dense. They are the virtual fruitcake of words. I get it. I really do. That’s why it’s so important to be kind to one another.

The more you chew on these insults, the more altered your truth becomes, until nothing good can be celebrated or remembered. What a waste. I’m not going to live my life eating that fetid stew, no matter how filling it is.

I choose pragmatism, and therefore, joy.

Thanks, Angiportus, for coming up with the title for this post!

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Don’t Should on Yourself

I should be thinner. I should do more housework. I should mow my lawn more often. I should stick up for myself more. I should wash all toxic people right out of my hair. I should not let people get to me. I should keep my opinions to myself. I should train my dog, wash my car, learn to wear makeup, toughen up, be more girly, shut up and take it, and for God’s sake, stop asking so many questions.

At some point in my life, all of these things have been said to me, quite often more than once. And then a funny thing happens. I start saying all those things to myself. I am great at beating myself up. That should be the first item on my resume.

I’m just curious about that foggy transition period. How do external criticisms become internalized? It’s as if they get injected into your very soul, and somehow you don’t even feel the puncture.

I think “should” is the most toxic word in the English language. It implies that what you’re doing isn’t good enough. It says you have good reason to be stressed out and depressed. It adds a whole host of unwritten items to your to-do list, thus insuring that you’ll never have a genuine feeling of accomplishment. It’s a judgment, and you’ll never be found innocent.

I think the only thing we should do in this world is stop saying should.

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Support vs. Supremacy

Do you feel like an outcast? Do you feel abnormal? Do you have social anxiety? Are you lonely? Misunderstood? Having trouble fitting in? Do you have a health issue, or a fetish or an addiction? Can’t get a job? In a toxic relationship? Do you want help?

Odds are quite good that there’s a support group out there for you. Thank God for support groups. I highly recommend them. Having the camaraderie of like-minded people, who are working together toward self-improvement, is priceless.

A good support group will discuss the issue at hand. It will help individuals talk about their struggles with said issue, and also allow them to brainstorm possible solutions. It will celebrate triumphs and parse failures to redirect people toward a more positive path. The ultimate goal is to get you into a better headspace, and help you build a better life for yourself.

Self-improvement isn’t easy. It takes work. It requires commitment. There are no shortcuts.

Unfortunately, in this era of social media, it’s easy to think that there are shortcuts. For every support group out there, there’s an online forum for people who want to stay right in their toxic place. Want to remain an anorexic? There are plenty of people just like you who will be more than willing to encourage your march toward death. Don’t want to face your fear? You can simply hide in your house and interact with a wide network of people who are doing the exact same thing. Do you prefer to blame others rather than make changes yourself? You will always be able to find people who will join you in casting blame, spewing hatred, and inciting violence.

But how’s that working for you? Being allowed to vent your bile with people who agree with you might feel good at first, but has it solved your issue? Are you happier, healthier, more functional now than you were before? Or are you simply more angry?

Let’s take, for example, your basic Incel group. There are many reasons why one might be involuntarily celibate. If your self-esteem is poor, if you feel ugly or awkward or socially-inept, if you’re isolated or depressed, you could benefit from a group of others who are going through the same thing. You could learn from each other’s mistakes and successes. You could learn that you’re maybe a lot more normal than you first realized, and that would do wonders for your self-image. A group like that, with the goal of helping you find ways to form a healthy romantic relationship, would be ideal. Unfortunately that’s not what on-line Incel groups do.

Incel groups place the blame on others. It’s the fault of women that you’re not getting laid. Yeah. You’re just fine the way you are. Its them. They are shallow and only go for muscular, gorgeous men. Because of that, you are not getting the sex you’re entitled to. That attitude rapidly devolves into misogyny, and then you get people encouraging violence. They celebrate mass killers. They encourage rape and spousal abuse. They say they’d feel soooo much better if someone threw acid into women’s faces.

But the thing is, how does that solve your problem? Do you think that attitude or behavior is going to bring you love? Because I’m here to tell you that you could be the most gorgeous man on the planet, but I’m not going to find you attractive if you want to throw acid in my face. And I’m fairly certain I’m in the majority, there.

Incel groups are also based on a lot of false premises. Most women aren’t looking specifically for muscular men. In fact, a lot of us find extreme muscles kinda gross. We all have different tastes. The fact that many men, who are fat or not well endowed or deformed or have scars, still manage to find love, will tell you that most women aren’t as shallow as these Incel groups would like you to believe. We are looking for love, too. (In fact, the way these groups insult the physical attributes of women, and only prize the “gorgeous”,  “unattainable” ones, show that the members are the shallow ones, not the women.)

And, uh, by the way, no one is “entitled” to sex. Healthy sex is a mutually given gift that is shared between people who respect, admire, and love one another. Love. Not hate. Equality. Not superiority or entitlement.

Incel groups are not about support. They’re about male supremacy. That gets you nowhere. Believing others are inferior isn’t going to render you more popular with them.

If you really want to improve your life, look at the people you associate with. Are they trying to help you improve? Are they a positive force, or are they toxic? Are they encouraging anger or violence? That isn’t going to do you any good.

To be clear: groups that marinate in negativity become extremists, gangs, and/or terrorists. You can do better than that. Everyone has felt like an outcast at some point. I guarantee it. But I know there’s awesomeness within you. You just have to nurture it to make it grow.

Hate is the wrong path. Take the high road. It may take some effort to get up there, but in the end, you’ll be all the better for it. Onward and upward!

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The right group for you is out there. I promise.

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Much Better than a Cult

As strange as it may seem, it took me years to figure out that I should only surround myself with kind, loving, and decent people. No one ever told me that. I think deep down, had the concept even occurred to the younger me, I wouldn’t have really believed I deserved it.

So I wasted a lot of time desperately trying to gain approval from people who were way too busy pumping toxic waste into my life to ever grant said approval. What a shame.

But slowly, ever so slowly, the number of amazing humans in my world started to outnumber the bad apples. That made that rotten fruit seem increasingly unpalatable to me. I’ve come to realize that it’s okay to expect quality in all my relationships. What a notion.

It’s so wonderful to know so many outstanding people now. It’s a gift. It’s priceless. Sometimes it brings tears of joy to my eyes.

But recently I’ve come to see what it would have been like if I had kept my emotional garden free of weeds and decay all along. My boyfriend seems to have done an excellent job of doing so, and the results have been profoundly positive. There is so much good in his world. It’s one of the many things I admire about him. He is a lodestone for kindness.

Recently we announced our engagement, and the outpouring of love and support has been overwhelming. In the best possible way. This is all new to me. I keep telling him I feel like I’m being love bombed. He reassures me that I’m not joining a cult. Receiving this kind of encouragement is just as it should be.

Well, alrighty then! I’ll take it. Please and thank you!

In case no one ever told you, dear reader: Look for the good in the world. Accept nothing less. You’ll be amazed at how much it multiplies. Proof positive that love conquers all.

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Messing with a Scammer

Early one morning, I was staring blankly at my computer screen, in an utter fog, wishing I weren’t allergic to caffeine, when the following message from my friend G popped up in Facebook Messenger:

“Hello Barbara?”

I knew right off the bat that this couldn’t be G. First of all, he would never call me Barbara. (The only person who ever used my full first name was my mother when she was pissed off.)

But the other big hint that this couldn’t be G was the fact that he passed away 3 months ago. For a split second, I wished fervently that it was really him, that his death was a huge mistake, but I knew better.

And that instantly infuriated me. This was clearly a scammer, and I bet he reached out to everyone on G’s contacts list, so that must have been a painful jolt to his wife and kids. How cruel.

So I decided to mess with this person.

Me: “Hi G! How are you?”

(As I typed that, I wished this guy was burning in hell.)

G: “Am fine, Busy online Searching on what to invest my Grant Money on and you?”

(Yep, definitely not G. G knew how to punctuate and capitalize.)

Me: “I’m good. Same old, same old.”

G: “Good. Was wondering if you’ve heard about the federal government grant?”

Me: “No I haven’t.”

G: “The Grant is placed for those who need assistance buying a home, paying for bills, starting their own business, going to school, or even helping raise their children with old and retired people .This is a new program, i got $100,000 delivered to me when i applied for the grant and you don’t have to pay it back.”

(I cannot believe anyone would fall for this scam during the Trump era. No way on earth is the government going to give us money to help ease our suffering, without some serious strings attached. This scammer must think the streets here are paved with gold.)

Me: “Wow. That’s good luck considering all you’ve been through.”

(Like, uh, dying.)

G: “Thought you might have heard about it already?”

Me: “No. We haven’t talked in months.”

(That’s putting it mildly. If only we could.)

G: “I contacted the online claiming agent through link and he checked me.”

Me: “Checked you for what?”

(Rabies? Psychopathy? A serious lack of common decency?)

By the way, we should talk about the 900 dollars I owe you.”

(I threw that in just to see if I could get this guy spun up and excited and waste more of his time. The more of his time that I wasted, the less time he’d be spending scamming someone else. But at this point, the scammer went silent for a day. I guess it takes one to know one. So I decided to give it one last try.)

“Seriously, though, I do feel guilty for not paying you back yet.”

G: “Forget about that yet. I know when you have it you will pay up.”

(What a mensch. Especially since I never asked G for money in my life.)

“Let’s talk about the good news. If you click on this link and fill out this form, you might be able to get the grant money, too.”

That’s when I started getting bored with the game. Of course I wasn’t going to click on any link and turn over my social security number or my bank or credit card information, or open myself up to ransomware. So, for my final salvo, I decided to let him have it.

Me: “Sorry, ‘G’, I’m not going to click on your link, and here’s why. You stole the identity of one of the most decent human beings I’ve ever known. He was kind and generous and supportive. He also died three months ago, leaving behind a lot of people who are heartbroken and who loved him very much. I doubt a scammer like you will ever be able to say the same thing, because you don’t build relationships, you take advantage of people. I think the real G would be highly amused by the fact that I’ve been able to waste so much of your time. I also think that since he was very protective of his loved ones, he’d be outraged to know that you probably also reached out to his wife and children, who are still grieving, and this must have given them considerable pain. Sitting in your dingy, third-world room in front of your crappy computer, you already know what I’m about to tell you: You are cursed. Maybe that’s revenge from my friend G and people like him, or bad karma from the pain you cause when you rob little old ladies of their life savings, or maybe it’s just your fate, but you wouldn’t be doing this if you weren’t desperate for the one thing that will never make you happy: Money. Know this: NOTHING will ever go right for you for the rest of your life until you change your ways and try to have a positive impact on people, rather than a negative, toxic one. Right now, you are pathetic. But you don’t have to stay that way. It’s up to you.”

I doubt any of this will sink in. I’m sure it wasn’t even read. But I have to say, I feel cleansed.

scammer

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Rebooting Oneself

Decades ago, I was walking my dog after a hard rain and I slipped on a wet, grassy slope. My feet flew above my head. I went down hard. I mean, really, really hard. It knocked the wind out of me. As I helplessly slid down the hill, everything went bright white. I couldn’t see, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move, and for a second there I had the strangest feeling that my brain was completely shut off. At that moment, I didn’t know how to see, breathe, or move.

That experience only lasted a second or two, but I’ll never forget it. And I definitely won’t forget the 9 months of pure agony I went through in its aftermath, while getting the resulting herniated disc diagnosed and treated. Good times.

As a friend of mine says, rebooting your computer can fix a multitude of sins. But a personal reboot such as the one I just described is no fun at all. I do not recommend it.

Unexpected catastrophic events can definitely make you do a reboot in terms of reevaluating your life, and they can cause you to change its trajectory. Death. Divorce. Job loss. Natural disasters. Totaling your car.

But these aren’t the only kinds of reboots I’ve had in my life. The intentional ones are fantastic. Driving across country for a new job in a new state, and therefore completely remodeling my life, was a reboot par excellence. So was buying my house and moving in. Vacations are mini-reboots, and I would argue that they’re really critical for mental and physical health.

I also consider purging toxic people from your life to be a reboot of a kind. You really don’t realize what a negative influence someone has been on you until they are gone. It’s like taking off a shoe that’s two sizes too small. Feels. So. Good.

If you have a chance to voluntarily reboot, even if it’s something as minor as a haircut or a manicure, I encourage you to do so. I also fervently hope that there are no involuntary reboots in your future. But the rain falls on us all sooner or later. May you weather the storms and revel in the sunshine, dear reader.

Reboot

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Mourning the Imperfect

We’re told it’s impolite to speak ill of the dead, but that makes mourning most people extremely difficult. Nobody’s perfect, and this habit we have of trying to sanctify people simply because they’ve done the one thing that we will all do eventually, which is shuffle off this mortal coil, means that there are whole portions of their lives that we are made to feel uncomfortable about discussing.

This is extremely unfair to those of us who get left behind. For example, I’m still intensely mourning the loss of the love of my life, but the fact is, our relationship was tempestuous and rocky at the best of times. The good times were fantastic and unforgettable, but the bad times were crap. I need to be able to process that, too.

Many of my loved ones cannot understand why I’m grieving at all, and because of that, it’s a topic I can’t bring up in their presence. They don’t want to hear about the good or the bad, so I’m left to chew on all of it alone. I shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about the happy memories, and I shouldn’t have to avoid mentioning the unhappy ones in order to keep from proving their unspoken, elephant-sized point. That makes it awfully hard to move on.

And sometimes I feel as though I’m the only one on earth who is willing to admit that I’ve been happy to see certain people go. That has been the case with two people who loomed large in my life when I was a child. One abused me physically, the other abused me emotionally. When those two died, my “grieving” took on the form of not doing a happy dance in the presence of anyone who might be shocked. I should be allowed to talk about that, too, but I rarely have the opportunity, because I try to respect other people’s feelings.

I do agree you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead around those who live on and might be offended. But I strongly disagree that you shouldn’t do so because the people in question aren’t around to defend themselves. That’s a steaming load of cow manure. Their best defense would have been to not lead toxic lives in the first place. They made their choices. So if you have to badmouth them in order to heal your wounds, I say go for it.

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