Looking beyond the silver lining: Why your dark side matters, too

"An even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady."

A common misconception of therapy, and psychology in general, is that it is an answer or a "fix" for something that's broken, a weekly dose of advice on how to "get better," or that a therapist's job is to make people happy. We as humans are in a collective pursuit of happiness, but searching for it as an absolute is a risky endeavor that leaves us out of balance.  

I've learned in many ways, and most from personal experience, that keeping a rosy glow on every possible outcome - letting "the power of positive thinking" come in and "fix" the problem - is a band-aid solution which masks the true reality of the breadth of a problem. We are all subject to this response at times, because happiness is often the path of least resistance. It looks good and it feels reassuring. "Hey, I'm happy! Everything is going to be fine!" This response is soothing to friends, our children, our partners, and mostly to ourselves. It helps create purpose in a dark time, and builds momentum for others to ride along with us on the wave of happy. 

But the problem with this umbrella of positivity is that it is not balanced. And with tilted scales of any kind, it puts an overwhelming amount of pressure on the heavier scale. When we are expected, by our own selves or by others, to constantly show our best side, we don't know how to handle it when we just simply aren't happy. Or we do, but we feel ashamed, unallowed, or unsure of how to share it with others. 

Seeking therapy has a natural way of presenting itself when a person is at a low point in his or her life. Clients often find clarity in the work, feel "cured," and stop working on themselves. The inherent problem with this is that it is often when we are feeling our most balanced, steady, and stable that we can find the bravery to dig to a deeper place. But more often than not, once the "happy hat" is back on, deeper issues often get placed on the back burner. This manifests in so many day-to-day ways that we've all experienced in some form: rebound lovers who "replace" our search for happiness from within, or taking a job that's better than the one we have but isn't what we were truly looking for. "It's better than what I had before! (Therefore)... I'm feeling better!"

To the people who always somehow manage to find a silver lining even when there really isn't much of one there - Here's lookin' at you.

If you're still stuck on, "But what's so wrong with being happy!?" know that I often find myself asking this same question, too. I'm usually happy. And that's fine - but when I am not, I need to find acceptance and create space for those emotions, as well. Happiness has its place. But so do anger, sadness, loss, confusion, and questioning. 

Masking these emotions with eternally sunny optimism leaves us feeling baffled when something takes that optimism away. I'm talking about trauma, death, defeat, politics, a terribly cold and rainy day, bouts of depression, or simply "waking up" to a more balanced reality: The reality of a balanced view of our pasts, our childhoods, our relationships, our memories. The balanced recognition that sometimes, things were sunny...But sometimes, they just weren't. 

And that's okay. 

Finding balance in our emotions is a lifelong pursuit, but I encourage us all to be in acceptance of our entire range of emotions - even the "bad" ones. Slapping a positive spin on things is quick and pain-relieving fix, and we all do it at times. I've been doing it a lot this week. But being cognizant of this pattern - seeing a more balanced way of thinking about difficult events and knowing that it's okay to acknowledge that sometimes things really are just painful - allows us to bring our whole selves when responding to difficulty. It lets us look at our defenses, and understand why we might be hiding emotions that feel "unacceptable" to ourselves or others.

Balanced thinking lets us be more real, with ourselves and with others. Balanced emotions are beautifully unapologetic in their honesty.  

If you're happy, let it shine. But if you're not, give those emotions a voice, too. They are part of the whole picture. They are authentically you, in that moment. And they restore our balance in the face of difficulty, enabling us to "remain upright and steady."