These days, the realm of spirituality (and sometimes psychology) can feel fake. Instagram and other social media are jammed with influencer posts about positive vibes, about not allowing negative energy or thoughts to get to you, about surrounding yourself with only supportive, positive people.
Unless you live in a bubble or on Mars, this is not only unrealistic, but also a recipe for never growing or truly learning who you are. If you attempt to transcend or avoid difficult experiences, you can remain emotionally stunted. Spiritually minded psychologists and teachers refer to this as spiritual bypassing. Like it or not, the ugly parts of our humanity are where growth can occur. In the words of Buddhist teacher, author, and nun Pema Chödrön:
Feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear… are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They’re like messengers that tell us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck.
Many emotions serve as flags indicating an opportunity for us to learn. Challenge, sorrow, change, discomfort, conflict, hatred, depression, and anxiety are paths to growth and change. We can explore and accept the parts of ourselves society urges us to keep tucked away. Painful or uncomfortable experiences enable us to grow past our current emotional and spiritual states.
Fake positivity can perpetuate a lot of the stigma around mental illness. Encouraging someone who has clinical depression to focus on the positive is not helpful and can actually do more harm. This advice can bolster the feeling that they are at fault because they cannot simply pull themselves up by the bootstraps. I tell people struggling with depression that they are more tuned in to real human experience and emotion than those pushing the positive-vibes-only agenda.
Clients don’t come to therapy or seek life coaching because everything in their lives is going wonderfully. They are stuck in a pattern chock-full of negative emotions, and they cannot seem to break free. Sometimes we need an unbiased third party to help us see what we are running from or…