Exploring My Dark(er) Side

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…).

13 thoughts on “Exploring My Dark(er) Side”

  1. It’s always good to explore your emotions…but I would not let go of that optimism – it’s gotten you this far and from what I can see, and hear, your impact on others is positive. So go ahead and explore but don’t forget to remain true to who you are…

  2. I can relate to much of this – tending to always look up, parents who didn’t express a lot of feelings. I’d agree that recognizing one’s dark side has a freeing component to it, as far as acceptance goes and taking pressure off of oneself. To recognize or face a thing is to lose the fear of it – not that one needs to embrace a long walk on the dark side! What an intriguing topic. I think of all the writing that awaits.I haven’t seen The Joker but have seen clips; Phoenix’s portrayal is haunting. And … I think hopefulness is one of the things the world needs most.

  3. Greetings from your alter ego. While Dawn and Jess are usually right…and very positive, I’m going to support your venture into the dark side. I doubt there’s much risk that you are suddenly going to become a pessimist. I am not an optimist. I need to have optimists around me for balance. Still, there is something to be said for awareness of the problems in the world.
    I have a podcast to recommend, not because it’s dark, but because it’s awesome, and written by someone who is not rose-colored in his outlook. If you know John Green from The Fault in our Stars, then you will enter knowing that he is not afraid of sadness. Listen to his entries on The Anthropocene Reviewed. The episodes are short (bite-sized), funny (at times), clever (always), and profound. They will always make you think. I listened to all of his past episodes, and now I eagerly await each new installment…https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/anthropocene-reviewed

  4. I really identify with this post and I’m glad that you shared it. I recently asked my VERY positive mother-in-law if she thought I *really* needed to explore my negative emotions to move on from some tough things. To my surprise, she said yes. (Honestly, I asked her because I figured she’d say no. Sheesh.) Anyway, I’m on this journey with you. My mother-in-law swears that when you look honestly at the dark side, you get expansive freedom for your positive feelings. If she’s any example, she’s right, so I’m heading over to the dark side with you. But I’m not watching The Joker. Maybe I’ll just listen to John Green’s podcast…

    1. I’m so glad to know that I have this community of friends. This certainly makes me feel brave (well, braver). You are the second person to use the word freedom. I’m really interested in that idea. Thank you for joining me in this journey. Let’s see where it takes us!

  5. There’s a lot of research that says optimists live longer! As a person who has spent too much of her life dwelling on the dark side, I can’t even imagine what it would be like to always look on the bright side. However, at age 73, I think I am finally ready to break that nasty habit of mine and try to start training my mind to cut off those negative thoughts. Better late than never. I’m not looking for perfection…just more balance!

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