The Positivity Trap, why being positive doesn't always work.

This is a topic I've wanted to write for some time but couldn't quite formulate what I needed to say or clarify the jumbled up thoughts in my head.
After watching yet another 'don't ever give up' video recently, I decided I'd finally try to put down what I believe about the subject because I really feel that it's a false and misleading message.
It's so prevalent at the moment. I'm sure you have all seen the positive memes, videos and sayings on social media, all giving the impression that all you have to do is try to lift your spirits and think positively.

Don't get me wrong, I think words of encouragement can sometimes help to focus your head or give that little message of support you might be needing at a particular moment in time.

The problem for me is that the implication that positive thinking is the answer to all your problems is simplistic, and worse, can make you feel like you are failing when you can't muster up enough good thoughts in a difficult situation.
Blackboard ThinkPositive
Photo courtesy of

Unfortunately no amount of thinking can change actual stressful life events. If you are in debt, grieving, suffering from illness, these are things that are sometimes beyond your control and whilst dwelling on the negative won't help, neither will trying to find the positive. Because, honestly, being in a tough life situation is like being on a battleground with every inch gained a small success but the final goal a million miles away.

As for myself, I'm naturally disposed to try and make the best of things but after a series of events beginning with losing my Dad last year, my ability to stay strong and cheerful completely deserted me. I realised, recently, when things started to improve, that sometimes you need to relinquish and let go and accept that lack of control is just another part of life.
It wasn't an easy lesson to learn but I think it's an important one. And that letting go can manifest in many different ways, it can be a literal letting go of things or routines that we can't manage any more. It can be an emotional letting go of a sense of self that no longer seems quite true. And it can be a letting go of a belief that we control everything about our fate.

Which is why the 'think positive' message sounds a false note for me and is counterproductive if things are really bad. Frankly, looking at a picture of a glowing woman on a beach with an inspirational tagline attached can serve as a reminder of how helpless and uninspired we feel. It can have the opposite effect of the intended message and make us feel like we are not quite up to par because with can't ride the storm with sunshine and joy.

I found this interesting article on the topic and it refers to another important point that should be highlighted - masking our real feelings of helplessness doesn't always lead to better things.

'If you feel that the world completely sucks, then telling yourself to think positive isn’t dealing with your real feelings. You can't just put a happy mask on whenever you're feeling miserable and think that's going to solve all your problems.
You need to face your feelings and go through them.'

This ties in with my idea of letting go and accepting what is happening - an experience that won't be achieved by using glib phraseology to pretend that everything is wonderful when it really isn't.

I think the answer for me is hope, I always hope that things will get better and know that life is ever changing and moving forward.
And it's ok to be negative and feel sad or frustrated, accepting that it's how life is at a particular moment makes us human.

Phone Cover Positivity


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  • Mrs Helicopter Writes
    Mrs Helicopter Writes 11 September 2016 at 21:23

    I'm so so with you on this. I wrote a post last year ( I won't link dump) about how Failing isn't always good for you and it's the exact message. Sometimes it is just pants and you need to process the negativity and not just brush it under the carpet. More people need to read this. Great post.

    • Cliona Kelliher
      Cliona Kelliher 11 September 2016 at 22:04

      Thank you! Feel free to post your link, I'd love to have a read :)

  • Alana
    Alana 12 September 2016 at 03:51

    This is a really interesting post. I completely agree with you on the "inspirational" photos not being much help when you're going through hard times. For me it can help to think about positive things that have happened each day, rather than trying to adopt a positive attitude overall, which is too overwhelming.
    Alana x

  • yvonne
    yvonne 12 September 2016 at 11:45

    Very true, you do need to deal with your feelings rather than mask it and pretend to be positive. I am the master of not showing my true feelings, but I usually explode at some point when it all gets too much. 'Hope' is a much better way to describe dealing with things x

  • Cathy Glynn
    Cathy Glynn 12 September 2016 at 16:24

    I so agree with you, sometimes life events can spiral and being positive does not really help x

  • rhian westbury
    rhian westbury 12 September 2016 at 23:32

    I totally agree with you, while I am generally a positive person it isn't always necessary to be positive all the time x

  • Clairejustine
    Clairejustine 13 September 2016 at 07:03

    I agree, I am usually; my glass is half empty type person but I am trying to be more half full...

  • Ickle Pickle
    Ickle Pickle 13 September 2016 at 20:00

    A really interesting read - I am a firm believer in positivity but I also think we have to accept what is now, and sit with it - which can be terribly difficult. Kaz x

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous 13 September 2016 at 22:10

    We wake up in the mornings and try to be better, that's all we can do. Positivity is key and it does help us. My mummy's dad died very young and her family helped her to remain positive and see light in the darkness, they helped her greive at the same time and always gave her hope that things would heal and get better. Agreed that It can get frustrating seeing messages on social media all the time though x

  • Lucy Howard
    Lucy Howard 14 September 2016 at 21:10

    Fabulous post. I agree with every word you have written. Sometimes you just can't think positively. Or thinking positively can actually be more damaging. Before having my son, I suffered from recurrent miscarriages and I actually found that hoping the pregnancy would be fine and thinking positively just meant for more heartbreak when I lost the baby. In the end, I tried not to even think of myself as being pregnant. It was the only way I could cope. I think the whole "think positive", "smile it might never happen" philosophy is quite naive. Sometimes the worst happens and people are living in desperate situations. But you are right, hope is a beautiful thing. Hugs Lucy xxxx

    • Cliona Kelliher
      Cliona Kelliher 14 September 2016 at 23:07

      I'm so sorry you had to go through recurrent miscarriages. I had one many years back and it was heartbreaking and I totally get the blocking things out strategy, we all have our own way of coping with things. Thanks for your lovely comment, xxx

  • Unknown
    Unknown 16 September 2016 at 10:53

    Really interesting post. 'Positivity' is being pushed quite strongly these days by mental health groups but I agree that it is stupid to just try slap a happy face on when you actually have some very serious issues in your life. Working through them is the best way forward in the long term.

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