I was having dinner the other night with a friend who is having a tough time as she goes through a very difficult break-up and I wondered, with all the emphasis in Positive Psychology on resilience and optimism, are we being unrealistic about our abilities to bounce back after a crisis? And is there actually some real value in being unhappy sometimes? Immersed as we are in the ‘dog days of summer’ it might seem like the wrong time to look at such heavy and pessimistic issues, but let’s give it a try this week. Give yourself the time you need to recover from an emotional crisis and consider some positive effects of negativity.
While some may believe that we ‘should’ bounce back shortly after a divorce, death of a loved one or job loss, studies have shown that it generally takes at least two years for your wounds to heal. The process requires two distinct objectives: recovery from your grief over the loss and rebuilding the foundation of your daily life. The support of family and friends can help during this period – and you can ease your burden by not expecting too much of yourself and accepting that your emotions may overwhelm you sometimes.
As for the benefits of negativity, psychologists and philosophers have long championed the notion of facing your fears as a way to recognize that these negative outcomes would likely not be as formidable as you had imagined. Once you realize that you can experience a crisis and survive, it reduces anxiety and gives you confidence that you can live with uncertainty about your future.
Another constructive side effect of unhappiness is that it can become the motivator for you to make adjustments in your move toward a goal of greater satisfaction. It encourages you to begin the process of change and continue to overcome the challenges you meet along the way.
So if you find yourself down in the dumps over a loss, even during what might otherwise be carefree summer months, give yourself permission to accept that you are reacting normally to a complicated situation. Trust that you’ll find a way to restore yourself and your life, over time.