I remind myself that I have the “permission to be human” often these days. Many of us have been challenged in ways that we never anticipated in this pandemic. We have struggled through losses in so many different areas of our lives. It can feel overwhelming as we face each day, not knowing what to expect. We are forced to confront the unknown and need to flex our emotional muscles to navigate a new landscape. As I take each day as it comes, I keep in mind that I do not need to be perfect. I can make mistakes. Most importantly, I give myself the permission to feel my full range of emotions from anger to sadness to joy and everything in between from one moment to the next.
I AM HUMAN
I AM A SPIRITUAL BEING
I AM OK
This idea is often contrary to what we may see, hear or read about, especially in social media. You may have heard of the term, “toxic positivity.” Perhaps you even have some family or friends in your circle that hold this mentality. Essentially, toxic positivity is the belief or mindset that one should maintain a positive outlook when the situation is difficult, challenging, uncomfortable, or just downright toxic. Do you know someone that exhibits continuous positivity without any acknowledgment of just how hard life can be? Or maybe you have individuals in your circle that deny the difficulty in navigating certain circumstances or people that can cause stress. It can show up when someone advises you to just “get over it” or to “look on the bright side.” This toxic mindset can be detrimental to our physical and emotional health and wellbeing.
Did you know that focusing only on positivity while dismissing negative experiences and situations can even backfire? Research shows that “people who try to increase their happiness often end up feeling worse” (Catalino, Algoe, and Fredrickson, 2014). It is not helpful to focus solely on the positive to the exclusion of ignoring and invalidating the negative. This “good vibes” only approach can leave us feeling that our real emotional experience is not valid and that there is something wrong with us. Our acceptance of the full range of emotions, both positive and negative, is the key to navigating this pandemic as well as opening us up to a greater human experience. When we acknowledge our negative emotions and situations, we can then receive support from others, find meaning and purpose in our lives, and experience mindful awareness of the present moment.
Humans were built to have a total emotional world. We are evolutionary powerhouses! Part of our “superpower” is the possession of “negative” and “positive” emotions. Negative emotions are not “bad.” They have their benefits just as positive ones do. Think of emotions as creating spirals. These spirals can go either up or down. Positivity spirals up. Negativity spirals down. Depending on where your emotions land at the moment, you will experience different action tendencies.
Negative emotions are narrowing. Narrowing means that there is a focus on a specific action or result. Their action tendencies are useful in many situations. For example, the feeling of sadness or depression may indicate the thought of losing something important. That may lead to the action of needing to mourn something or someone in your life. The feeling of anger may indicate the thought of a violation of rights (I have been harmed), which may lead to fighting back. A good example of using the power of negative emotions is the Black Lives Matter Movement that responded to the challenges in 2020. BLM is a political and social movement formed to protest police brutality and violence in black communities. Anger is a useful negative emotion to fight against the wrongs and injustices in this world.
When you permit yourself to be as human as you are, you invite a richer experience. This experience will be filled with joy, pain, and sorrow. That is life. As we practice mindfulness in our daily lives, we can learn to embrace and appreciate all of life’s situations. Through our acceptance of ourselves and the rejection of “toxic positivity,” we can grow from the challenges. We are here to learn lessons to reflect on and share, give ourselves to those we care about, support causes, and receive loving-kindness and help from others.
How can we show up for ourselves and others more authentically? The graphic below gives us a place to start. Our goal is to focus on how to respond within ourselves and for others in a way that supports and accepts the complete human experience instead of minimizing, dismissing, or negating parts of ourselves. Rejecting “toxic positivity” allows us to be genuinely seen and heard…permission to be human.
Wendy Vance, M.S. is an educator, mentor, coach, and soon-to-be positive psychology practitioner. She teaches success strategies and professional exploration topics at Montgomery County Community College in PA and the University of Maryland Global Campus. Wendy is passionate about striving to live a flourishing life and sharing positivity in the world. Connect on her website at mypositivecoaching.com (sign up for free workshops) or LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/wendyvance
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
2 thoughts on “Permission to be Human”
My mind (soul and spirit) thanks you for this powerful, profound, and purposeFULL message… I am eternally grateful.
I AM HUMAN
I AM A SPIRITUAL BEING
I AM AWARE OF POSITIVITY
I AM AWARE OF NEGATIVITY
I AM GENUINELY SEEN AND HEARD
I AM WELL OK WITH MYSELF
I AFFIRM, I AFFIRM, I AFFIRM
The rising affirmations and permission to be human are seen, heard and greatly appreciated.
Sincerely and Genuinely,
Candace L. Owens
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Thank you for the kind words, Candace!