I’m an optimist.
I was raised by optimists. For example, when I talked with my mother on the first year anniversary of her diagnosis with pancreatic cancer, she said, “You know, Erika, this has been the best year of my life.” She went on to say how much she had appreciated people’s kind words and how she would never have known how much impact she had had on people if they hadn’t had a reason (her terminal diagnosis) to share this with her. But really? In 82 years of living, she selects a year when she knew she was dying, received horrible treatments, took medications that made her feel sick, and lost all of her hair as the BEST year of her life?
I’m bad at sharing negative emotions.
My parents were not good at sharing negative emotions either (see above). In addition to my wonderful rose-colored-glasses mom, my dad (who is 89 years old) has an incredible ability to look ahead and not let himself get down. Years ago when I was having some trouble with anxiety, he told me, “I love you, and I really want to be helpful, but the only thing I know to say is ‘Pull up your socks!'”). This has become sort of a joke between us ever since, but it is evidence of an inability to deal with negative emotions.
To be honest, I kind of like being an optimist and being a person who is eternally positive, and I truly admire the way my parents lived/live their lives, but I know there are consequences to this way of being in the world. Being eternally optimistic often leads to disappointment when things don’t turn out the way I had hoped. Sometimes my optimism and excitement take over what someone else is trying to say. And let’s face it, life is full of bad experiences, tragedy, and sadness. I sound ridiculous at times when I’m trying to find a positive spin to a horrific situation.
There is plenty of research out there (I’m reading Marc Brackett’s Permission to Feel right now.) to tell me how unhealthy and unproductive suppressing negative emotions can be. This weekend I had an honest conversation with one of my daughters about some of this, and she said that sometimes I’m too hopeful, too positive, and that maybe it would be helpful to balance a little optimism with a healthy dose of reality. My younger daughter said something later in the weekend about watching podcasts, and then said, “It might be good for you to watch some darker shows, mom. I actually think you might like them.”
So…based on some research, some wisdom and advice from my daughters, and an interest in exploring and experiencing all that it means to be human, I’m planning to be a bit more realistic, find ways to share some of my darker feelings of anger, sadness and frustration, and maybe I’ll even watch the movie The Joker this week (OK, maybe I’m not quite ready for that….yet…).