I completely understand why some people, especially on the Internet, feel pressured to be “positive” in what they post and express. 

It’s absolutely true that many online communities put pressure on the people who engage with them to not post or express things that run counter to that community’s norms and standards. And, in online spaces devoted to self-improvement and personal development, those norms and standards sometimes amount to an edict to stay positive— or else be accused of being a “troll” who spews negativity and isn’t welcome in that space. 

I’ve even seen people express that “positivity culture,” especially online, can lead some people to feel broken or alienated when their reality doesn’t effortlessly match the “positive” expectations of their online community. 

I’ll never advise anyone to be “positive” at the expense of being authentic. Our reality is what it is. Some days we feel positive and optimistic; some days not so much. 

I don’t think it’s helpful for any community to pressure anyone to be positive just for the sake of being positive. 

That said: I also think that when we talk about the value of being “positive,” we need to keep a few things in perspective. First among these things is: “…compared to what?” 

It’s very easy, both on the Internet and in recovery-minded communities generally, to be instinctively negative. 

In communities where the common thread among people is the desire to improve their lives and relieve their pain, there is almost by definition a baseline of discomfort, distress, or struggle. One of the very reasons people seek out spaces and Internet pages devoted to healing and recovery is because they are probably in pain to begin with. 

Furthermore, the Internet makes expressing negativity— sometimes colorfully and at length— much easier and more socially acceptable than “real life” often does. If you take a look at the comments section of many web pages and videos, you can almost always see examples of this. 

Even though “positivity culture” definitely exists on the Internet, I still believe that “reflexive negativity” is the default mode of online communication. 

If we’re talking about whether it’s more useful to err on the side of positivity, as opposed to easy, instinctive negativity…I maintain that yes, it’s preferable to be positive. 

I don’t just mean it’s preferable to be positive because it’s easier to tolerate. There is a well-validated body of psychological research that discusses, at length, the benefits of an optimistic mindset when one is trying to do something difficult. 

Dr. Martin Seligman has made a whole career out of expanding the research on “learned optimism,” and therapists such as Bill O’Hanlon have emphatically shown the benefit of focusing on solutions in therapy as opposed to fixating on problems. 

It’s my own experience, as a therapist, that whether we habitually err on the side of expressing positive, optimistic, or hopeful content online, or whether we err on the side of expressing negative, pessimistic, or hopeless content— whatever we express will tend to be reinforced and work its way into our thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs. 

All of which is to say: I don’t think anyone should be pressured to be positive or punished for being negative. Authenticity is more important than either positivity or negativity, in the long run. 

But if your goal is to change how you think, feel, and behave, then I think it’s an enormously practical skill to develop to nurture and reinforce the positive aspects of your experience and the gains in your recovery— and one of the most effective ways to do that is to make those the focus of your internet posting. 

One of my least favorite things that happens online is when someone simply cannot come up with a positive or constructive comment on anything that is posted. 

Being sarcastic or dismissive when someone posts content is very easy. It takes virtually no imagination or constructive thought. 

And it’s very tempting, especially when we’re feeling negative or discouraged, to try to “share the wealth” of our negative mood by tearing someone down in online posts or comments. 

What I want to strongly communicate to everybody reading this blog is: what you talk about, write about, and otherwise focus on, WILL expand. 

The more thought and emotional energy you focus on being either positive OR negative, the more those thoughts, feelings, and attitudes will become practiced…and easier to reactivate in the brain. 

The more often you feel and express a similar thing— whether it is a thought, a belief, an idea, or an attitude— it becomes much, much easier to think, believe, and otherwise experience that thing in the future. 

What do you want to reinforce? 

What do you want to feel going forward? 

How do you want your online presence to make other people feel? 

You don’t have to like to yourself if you’re not feeling positive— but you don’t have to reinforce and expand negativity you’re feeling, either. 

One thought on ““Positive”…compared to what?

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