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Toxic Positivity, Empathy and Authentic Connection

How to rise above, so we can show up authentically, and powerfully as leaders and speakers.

The above excerpt from Brené Brown's, "Atlas of the Heart" really spoke to me last night.

Whether we're sharing of ourselves on stage, in meetings, boardrooms, or in relationships - including with partners, family and friends - if we don't have empathy, we can't connect authentically.

According to a study by Harvard Business Review, this causes breakdowns in relationships, lowers productivity, hampers engagement and creates an environment that prevents people from realising our full potential.

From stage, or as speakers, it means the audience will simply tune out.

One thing that further destroys authentic connection is this "spiritual" rising trend of "toxic positivity", where people think that they're being super spiritual by being positive - all the time.

I loved this Instagram post by a respected friend and spiritual teacher, Theoni Moraitis, in South Africa.

We cannot create connection, or share true empathy when we can't sit with our own, or someone else's pain, sadness, or suffering, without trying to fix it, move it or change it.

When we constantly reject, and are trying to dispel the "darkness" from our lives and the lives of others, it creates a counter intuitive result.

Toxic positivity creates disconnection and darker darkness.

And it is driven by an underlying belief that our darkness is bad, and not ok, an even a sign of weakness and that when we're in it, we're creating, attracting and manifesting more darkness in our lives.

And while, scientifically, there is truth in "like attracts like", I'm not advocating living our lives consistently from a place of darkness, but acknowledging that it is a necessary part of being human and a critical pathway to fostering authentic connection.

When we reject our own darkness, or resist it, we break connection with ourselves, which leads to darker darkness.

When someone else rejects, or moves to fix it, change it or shift it, an egotistical hierarchy arises that places that person above us, or creates the perception that they are better, stronger, or more "spiritual" than us.

This too, only darkens the darkness.

When we feel fear in the face of darkness, because we have made it wrong, or bad, we taboo it and can even move to suppress it, disown it, or pretend it isn't there.

But what we resist, persists.

So this becomes the breeding ground of shame, guilt, blame, depression, anger, frustration and that’s where we can set off a spiral of negativity that can drop us to the darkest of nights.

But when we can simply see darkness as part of who we are, neither labelling it as good or bad, right or wrong and we accept it as part of who we are - that’s when we free ourselves to grow through it and with it, and because of it - into more of our light.

The darker the night, the brighter the light.

I believe that it is critical to allow ourselves the experience of being human. To feel, everything and allow it all to be. Without judgment.

This trend to constantly live in the positive and whenever there is no place for the "negative", results in a hustle, even panic to want to quickly shift it, change it, or overcome it because it’s labelled as “BAD” for us.

I call BS.

Making the “darkness” wrong and the light “right” is as ridiculous as making the sun right, and the moon wrong.

It also creates the delusion that our ultimate “achievement” is to be more positive, which becomes simply another endless, unobtainable goal and can lead to even more hopelessness, despair and feelings of failing.

Imagine the sun wanting to shine all the time and pushing against the moon rising?

There is no such thing as the ultimate positive place of living. Unless we're dead. Maybe then. I can't say for sure though. Not yet. Lol.

We live in a world of duality. Right / wrong, hot / cold, day / night etc.

Light / dark.

We can only know the one, in contrast to having known the other.

And so, we can only know our light by having met our darkness. How else could this be?

We can’t truly move out of our darkness by either making it right or wrong, or by forcing ourselves to be more positive.

To do that, is to take life by force. To control.

And to control, is born out of fear.

When we try to control something, we are the ones being controlled by it, and we become had by it, and actually lose control.

Rather, by simply allowing life to be, surrendering to what is, to let go, to trust, and to fully embrace each moment, and how we feel in it, is the most powerful way we can show up.

When we let go of resistance, life opens up, and flows.

We can then gift ourselves with greatest gift - of being fully, and wholly alive.

We are both light and dark, and simply swing, like a pendulum from one side, to the other. Now here, then there. Up, then down and back again. Experiencing.

We’re taught that we have to get “there” to the positive place, where all of the good, the happiness, the magic, the joy exists, and that we have to constantly “DO” something to get "there" - because where we are is not enough or ok.

It's a constant rat race to get to the destination of all the "good", also because the "bad" feels hard.

But life isn't linear. It's cyclical. Like a spiral.

We will never get "there" and stay there for as long as we are human.

Everything is temporary. The highs, the lows, the joy, the sorrow, the celebration, the mourning, all of our emotions.

Accepting this simple truth of life, surrendering and letting go doesn’t mean becoming complacent where we become passive bystanders instead of participants in life, wallowing and drowning in our darkness.

It means that we’re open to, leaning into and welcoming in the present moment, and the gifts of the unknown - as life flows in us, through us and around us.

For it is in the “being” here, now, with what truly is, and the fullness, and wholeness of who we are, that we exist and where life ebbs and flows.

This is our power, and the power of authentic connection with ourselves, and each other.

This can also be scary.

Especially when we meet or sit with our darkness because, "What will it do to me? How will I cope with it? What does that say about me?"

All these questions arise, but none of them comes from a place of our power. Only fear.

The thing is, both the darkness, and light always move on. Always. For nothing is permanent.

When we can accept this truth too, the need to control everything, to quickly change it or force it to be something that it is not - simply falls away. And we free ourselves to be, who we are, in the moment.

All life is transient.

Knowing this allows us the freedom to connect more deeply to the truth of who we are, which enables us to connect more deeply to the truth of who others are, and deeper empathy is born, authentic connection is established and our experience of each of each other, and of life becomes that much sweeter.

When we do this, we lose the need to make someone else show up as something other than how they are, and we become a safe space for authenticity and beautiful connection to flourish.

We don’t try to control the sun or the moon and in the same way, we do not need to control the darkness or the light.

Knowing and embracing each one, means accepting, knowing, honouring and loving ourselves more deeply.

When we can do this, we free ourselves from the need to be anything other than what we are, and there is nothing left to do, but be and move from a place of power, over fear.

We are not our light, or our darkness. We are both, and so much more.

Yes, we can also make conscious choices to shift out of darkness when we feel it. And we can support ourselves through it. We can also ask for support when we need it.

But instead of that movement arising from a place of fear, we can do so out of acceptance and love, knowingness that the darkness is as much a necessary part of life, as is our light.

And that through acceptance, love and surrender, we can always rise, strengthen through and from them all.

Being an authentic, empathetic leader, speaker and human being, is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves, and others.


* IMPORTANT: I’m not including clinical diagnoses here, as in the case where medical support is needed, it is important to seek the necessary medical advice and help to move through.


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