Trite sayings and “toxic positivity”

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It’s fun to make fun of inspirational sayings. They’re superficial. They don’t offer real solutions. They’re often divorced from reality.

In some cases, they’re actually harmful. If they work for you, great. They might not work for your friend or family member who’s depressed.

Finding the right words to say isn’t easy. The depressed person might not even be able to tell you the root of the problem — is it something short-term that’ll pass (lost a soccer game), something deeper that might be solved eventually (family issues) or something clinical that can’t be adequately addressed without therapy and possibly medication?

That means “toxic positivity,” however well-intended, is rarely the best solution.

The harm here is that the person you’re trying to help may get the impression you’re not taking their feelings seriously.

That doesn’t mean giving in completely to the negativity. Sometimes, people need a little kick in the backside. Sitting at home sulking for a long period of time is never a good solution. Try to get your friend to do something fun or productive.

Or just listen.

One of the best things you can offer someone is the feeling that they’re not alone. That’s why the Saturday Night Live sketches on dealing with the pandemic work so well, whether it’s the Let Kids Drink song and many other offerings from the “At Home” shows or the eBay sketch that reminded viewers they’re not the only people who never got around to learning a language or getting the sculpted body during all of this involuntary time at home.

That’s the motivation behind the “demotivators” offered at Despair.com and a classic from The Onion on the old “Footprints” story.

Maybe insulting someone’s faith isn’t the best path for everyone. But there are many ways to help someone. In most cases, they’ll just appreciate the effort.

In most cases.

Written by

Author of sports books, slayer of false narratives, player of music

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