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mindset negative behaviors negative emotions toxic positivity Sep 17, 2022
A black, blue and white butterfly rests on a white sandy beach with turquoise rocks

Right off the bat, I’m going to say that this sounds like an argument in favor of toxic positivity. Of slapping a smile on your face, denying what you really feel and projecting sunshine and rainbows outwardly while inside you are crying or throwing daggers at everyone around you.

I am not an advocate for toxic positivity.

What I am in favor of though, is people connecting more sincerely with their emotions, and questioning their thoughts when they are feeling stuck, hurt, frustrated, and enraged. Sometimes, those emotional responses are 100% appropriate. And sometimes, those responses are us reacting to unhelpful beliefs about how things “should be.”

For example, I know that for more years than I care to admit, I have believed that life outside of medicine should be easy. That I worked so hard to become a good doctor, that somehow the world should let me get by without too much traffic, without too much family drama, and definitely without kids who complain. These were NOT conscious thoughts. I wasn’t aware of them. But, when something in the non-medical world happened that seemed difficult, and I was immediately frustrated, mad or indignant, a non-significant part of me was thinking that it “wasn’t supposed to be this way because I am a good person who works hard caring for others!!!”

Sound familiar?

I would love for there to be a cosmic karma system, and indeed, many people have very strong beliefs, inside and outside of organized religions about how we deserve or don’t deserve good or not-good things that happen. We might believe that we are “lucky,” or “unlucky” or that there is an afterlife for good and an afterlife for not-good. We might believe that “everyone is out to get us,” especially when we are feeling really burned-out and overtaxed.

I know that I was not helping myself with these beliefs about what I “should get.” And I am not advocating for us to believe that everything that happens to us is good either. That’s the whole toxic-positivity thing, and it probably harms us more than believing that we are just “unlucky” because it further divorces us from how we feel.

So what’s the answer? What if we start to be curious about what is unfolding before us, rather than happening to us? When I reflect back on difficult circumstances in my professional life and my personal life with this framework, I can see that in each occasion, there was something that I needed to learn, something that I needed to feel or come into acceptance about. When I was called out for toxic behaviors at work, it was a wake-up call to me that I couldn’t continue on that same path, and I started to step back and question long-held assumptions about my options. When relationships in my family of origin started becoming very stilted, I knew that I needed to do something different, because I wasn’t going to keep showing up this way (hiding from half of my family because I couldn’t bear to hear them arguing or trying to out-do one another) in front of my kids.

There was pain in these situations. But I had an option to respond to the pain and decide what I would do, or I could continue to ignore, avoid or numb things away, and become increasingly angry, rude and exhausted.

Life is no longer happening to me. Things happen. People say words. Or they get sick or break a bone. The days tick by every 24 hours. And I am practicing deciding what I will think and do in response. I get curious about my feelings and reactions. I create boundaries for myself. I think about why my kids are acting “that” way, and what they might need (this one is definitely a work in progress!), rather than just getting upset or frustrated.

Do I need to be happy about everything? Not at all. But can I stay open and humble and curious about what’s going on? Yes (mostly). And that feels much better than feeling that I am at the mercy of what life is throwing at me, that I am unlucky, or that I “deserve better” from the world and am therefore justified in chronic resentment.

Hi There!

I'm Megan. I'm a Physician and a Life Coach and a Mom. I created this blog to help other Physicians and Physician-Moms learn more about why they feel exhausted, burned-out and overwhelmed, and how to start to make changes. I hope that you enjoy what you read, and that it helps you along your journey. And hey, if you want to talk about coaching with me, I'm here for that too! I offer a free 1:1 call to see if we are a good fit. Click the button below to register today.

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