“We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”- Brene Brown.
Look on the bright side! Good vibes only. Think happy thoughts! Don’t worry.
While these phrases may seem helpful, they can all be examples of toxic positivity. Instead of offering hope, toxic positivity can actually stifle and dismiss very real experiences and emotions. Lorilee is joined by her good friend Starr Cliff to unpack why many of us respond to difficult situations with toxic positivity. The two explore alternative ways we can truly show up and offer help when people around us are suffering.
- On Starr’s playlist: “Your’n” – Tyler Childers
- What is toxic positivity?
- Why people tend to react to conflict with toxic positivity
- The danger of numbing our emotions and rejecting negativity
- How to embrace the whole human experience…
- And show up for the people you love
- One tool for our G&G toolbox
Mentioned in this episode:
- Kristen Vanderlip’s reflective tools
- Enneagram Type Indicator
- Eugene Peterson’s The Message
Sponsored by Her-Bank.com
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Episode 9 Transcript – Starr Cliff
[00:00:00] Lorilee Rager: Hey, I’m Lorilee Rager, and this is Ground and Gratitude. It’s a podcast about designing the life you want, one that not only grows but also gives.
Before today’s episode I’d like to tell you about where I bank, Her Bank by Legends Bank. This episode of Ground and Gratitude is sponsored by them. Her Bank celebrates, honors, and supports women, especially entrepreneurs, by providing financial services and resources through a core team of experienced female bankers, which is so reassuring to me. Her Bank creates a bridge to help women overcome barriers when it comes to money, conversations and decisions while providing women with a better banking experience. Check out Her-Bank.com to learn more. Her Bank is a brand of Legends Bank. Legends Bank is member FDIC equal housing lender.
Has anyone ever told you to just look on the bright side when something goes wrong? It can feel so dismissive, and it’s actually an example of toxic positivity. My good friend Starr Cliff joined me last summer to talk about this habit. I know that I have a tendency to fall into toxic positivity. It’s something that seems helpful but can have the opposite effect. This was actually one of the very first conversations that we recorded for the podcast and I am so excited to share it with you today. So let’s get right into it and welcome Starr.
[00:01:52] Starr Cliff: I am excited to be here Lorilee. I have had so much fun talking with you, just having normal conversations as we’ve gotten to know each other about this topic, and I’ve learned a lot and I’ve thought about it a lot. So thanks for having me.
[00:02:06] Lorilee Rager: Well, absolutely. I’m very, very glad that you’re here today. Um, I thought I would tell you all a little bit about Starr, a little bit of intro. That she is a speech language pathologist, has been for 19 years. And she has a passion for love, Jesus, friendship, and proper grammar. And, um, just getting to know her, I’ve learned that she is one of the kindest, loving, um, biggest extrovert hearted person that I know. She also has a beautiful singing voice. And she is married to her high school sweetheart, Jonathan, who is an executive pastor, I like to call him a preacher, and has three great kiddos and a lab pup. And a fun fact, she is also a birder.
[00:02:55] Starr Cliff: Bird nerd. I admit it.
[00:02:59] Lorilee Rager: But welcome Starr. Thank you so much for joining me. I’m so happy to have you on the podcast. And I think that, um, our friendship has quickly built and toxic positivity is really one of the first topics I remember us talking about. Um, just for a little bit of backstory, when I was writing my grad school thesis, um, about six months ago and researching some topics, this came up when I started to look at my own level of optimism and positivity and gratitude. And so it was an interesting subject and the more I began to learn about it the more I wanted to talk about it. And you were one of the first people that I really was open and honest about the way I felt. And so it really, really, really helped. But, um, one of the first questions, just as an icebreaker, as a kickoff, I did want to ask you. What song is on repeat on your playlist today?
[00:03:59] Starr Cliff: So the song making all of my summer playlists so far is a song called All Your’n, okay, this is a Kentucky word, so I think you’ll appreciate this, All Your’n. This is by a Kentucky artist named Tyler Childers. Great summer country love song. Can’t get enough, very catchy. So check him out if you haven’t heard of him, Tyler Childers. It’s a great one for summer.
[00:04:23] Lorilee Rager: All Your’n. That sound a little Kentucky which I’m familiar with.
[00:04:28] Starr Cliff: I’m all your’n and you’re all mine. It’s a great song.
[00:04:33] Lorilee Rager: Your’n, like, um, your’n. How would you say,I’m all your’n?
[00:04:39] Starr Cliff: Mhm. So that’s, that’s your your’n drink over there. This is my drink over here but that’s your’n. Yes. Just a very country way of saying yours, essentially.
[00:04:52] Lorilee Rager: And, maybe in an affectionate way, probably.
[00:04:55] Starr Cliff: Yeah, I agree. It’s a good word.
[00:04:57] Lorilee Rager: Your’n, mine, coming together.
[00:05:00] Starr Cliff: You wouldn’t think it would be a word I would appreciate as a grammar nerd, which is accurate, but it’s a catchy song.
[00:05:07] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, that’s right. I agree. I agree. Well, thanks. Thanks for sharing that. Well, then we will just dive right in from there and I thought we could start out a little bit with just explaining in your own words, what, um, toxic positivity is. Just give me your thoughts on that and we can go back and forth.
[00:05:29] Starr Cliff: Yeah. So, so toxic positivity, I think it’s when either in your own life or in the life of somebody else, you are really just trying to put that sunny, positive, spin on everything we experience. So, looking for the bright side, what’s the lesson we can learn, what are the, what’s the good that we can take from this? Um, but more so doing it, maybe even just right at the moment that we’re experiencing that hard thing, right. So it’s trying to push people toward that positive outlook, that positive spin, just rushing people to that next step, um, when it’s just not appropriate. And letting people sit with their grief, with their doubt, with their anger, with their questions, um, and just really not letting them do that, rushing people to see the positive.
[00:06:12] Lorilee Rager: Right, right. That’s perfect. That’s exactly how I believe it is too, not letting people feel those feelings. And some examples that I find that I’ve heard all my life and used all my life until I learned more about it was when someone says things like, you know, oh, look on the bright side, it could always be worse or don’t be a debbie downer or, uh, the country way would be, you know, just brush it off and rub some dirt on it. And, and those are other ways that I’ve learned that it’s, it’s a response that I used to use all the time that is, is kind of to an excessive, a way that I express over optimism. And really I’m trying to discount somebody’s negative expression of their feelings or their emotions. Would you agree with that?
[00:07:06] Starr Cliff: I agree. And I, and I think in addition to those sort of really unhelpful cliches that we use to just sort of get past those uncomfortable moments, um, I like to call it living in the land of the but. So it’s like, yes, things are hard, but they could be worse, right. Or, you know, yes, my teenager is disrespectful and it really hurt my feelings, but he’s not arrested or he’s not dropping out of school or, you know. And so it’s like we do this comparison, right, and anything that comes before the but might be the real, but then we have to tack on the, but, um, to kind of really discount our experience and kind of think about how it could be worse or think about how we don’t have it as bad as, um, which isn’t always necessarily helpful. Life is not always a comparison and our feelings can be our feelings despite what anybody else might be experiencing. So, the land of the but is not always helpful.
[00:08:00] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. It’s just like you said, the helpful. Because I think at our core, when it comes to, um, behavior styles and, and mine and yours seems to be similar when it comes to being optimistic and, and always trying to be positive, we really at our core thought we were trying to be helpful. That we thought it was helpful to push toxic positivity onto someone who was feeling something that we considered negative.
[00:08:30] Starr Cliff: Somewhere along the line we absorbed that, right, that to feel sad or to feel angry or to feel disappointed was bad. And so let’s, let’s get past the bad as soon as we can. Um, and so it really is a reframing of not labeling those things as bad or good. They just are. They’re kind of neutral.
[00:08:48] Lorilee Rager: Yep. That is exactly right. That is, when I thought that I was trying to help you feel better by pushing out something positive from my side at you instead of just, just sitting with it and letting you feel the feelings you were feeling and not discount it. Um, so can you tell me a little bit, I know, um, we’ve talked in our friendship, getting to know each other, about our past and our family dynamics. And like you just touched on, that anger was, was negative. Do you, do you have any thoughts or opinions on the family dynamics and, in history in general, doesn’t even have to be specific, and how, you know, we’re not allowed to express anger?
[00:09:33] Starr Cliff: I think a lot of it for me was I, just on my own, took on a role and an identity of like the easy kid, the cheerful kid, the fun to be around one, didn’t cause problems. Um, I wanted to be charming, I wanted to be funny, I wanted to be witty. You know, I kind of did want to be everybody’s favorite. Um, and comedy plays better, you know, and positive plays better than hard. Um, and for most people that’s easier to be around and it’s not a burden. And it’s, um, you can kind of physically see, gosh, I’m bringing joy to people, I’m making people laugh, I’m, you know, brightening up their world. And so I think probably it was mostly just internally of, I took on that role, um, and just decided, and sort of thought that if I take them my frustration, or I take them my anger, I take them my sadness, that I’m just burdening them. Um, and that was a role that I didn’t want to play. I really wanted to be the fun one, the okay one, the one that made everything better.
[00:10:30] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Yes. I completely resonate with that and agree and felt the same way as a child. And I mean like a lot, it felt the same way as an adult. Really not wanting to put those burdens on someone else and wanting to make sure everybody in the room was happy because that also gave me a sense of, of okayness and peace. If everyone can, around me, just stay happy, just don’t get angry or show anger. And if you begin to, I will smother you with toxic positivity, right. To, to make it go away.
[00:11:03] Starr Cliff: Which is a whole nother lesson that I think we’ve internalized that’s really needs some rewriting, and it’s just that whole, like, whole idea of conflict being bad, right. But somewhere along the line, when I think you’re a toxic positivity person and you lean on that to cope and deal with the relationships you have sort of internalized this message like, well, conflict is bad and just must be avoided. Um, and through my husband and some friendships and other people I’ve really had to learn, no conflict is not bad. Conflict is a way through and conflicts can be hard and uncomfortable, but there is richness on the other side of it and there is realness on the other side of it. And if you skip the conflict, you don’t get the beauty of what comes on the other side. And so learning to sit in that awkwardness and that uncomfortableness of conflict, um, I think is a lesson that goes right along with trying to accept all emotions as they come, like we’re talking about.
[00:11:54] Lorilee Rager: Yep. That’s exactly right. And it’s so interesting saying how you’ve learned it from your husband and friends, because that’s one of the things I’ve also learned from you that it’s, it’s really okay. It’s, it’s okay to actually disagree or even have a healthy argument. That the actual idea of arguing or having healthy discussion with different sides of it is, is actually one of the healthier ways to figure out your own feelings instead of boxing it up and stuffing it in.
[00:12:29] Starr Cliff: Yeah. And I think that you can, you can point to true friendships by the level of arguments you’ve made it through, right. You know, I mean, I think our very best friends and the ones who have stayed are the ones that we’ve been through some stuff with and we have disagreed and we have had our feelings hurt and shared that our feelings have been hurt and we’ve worked through it. And you know, the very best friendships are not the ones where there’s never been any conflict. And so learning that as a 43 year old, um, it took me a while, but it’s been really precious and valuable.
[00:12:57] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Uh, and I think you, um, mentioned before, when we were kind of talking about, before we got on the podcast, that you have some examples, um, to share or some, a friend’s story or something like that.
[00:13:13] Starr Cliff: Well, I have a friend, um, who writes and talks and speaks a lot in this space about toxic positivity and specifically kind of the damage that the church can do in this area. Um, I’m sort of a professional Christian by proxy because of my husband’s job. Um, he’s been in ministry our whole marriage, and so we have seen some stuff and we’ve gotten it wrong ourselves and we’ve seen the church get it wrong. Um, but specifically this friend, her name is Kristen Vanderlip. She, um, she’s really been through some real suffering. She lost an infant daughter, she lost her father in the same time period. And upon reflection, she just really seen some real damage that the church did by throwing out these kinds of cliches that you’ve talked about without letting her really experience grief and lament and doubt and, um, heartache. You know, or, or even anger with God about why did this happen? Um, and so she writes that KristenVanderlip.com and she has a journal, she has reflective tools that she makes available to people to really look with intentionality at the hard things. Um, all of those things that us, you know, sort of people with a positive bent who are quick to rush through it, the things that we do not want to do, she gives tools for that. And so really intentional ways to look at the hard things, um, And to ultimately build hope. But you can’t get to the hope without, without walking through it and really looking at it carefully. And so Kristen Vanderlip, I think she’s a really important and helpful voice in all of this.
[00:14:41] Lorilee Rager: That’s, and it’s such a true example, knowing about, you said, her experience and that sort of thing. I think, um, that also, when you said trying to rush through it, it made me think about the other side of the same topic of toxic positivity is spiritual bypassing. Which kind of goes hand in hand and really goes to what you said, avoiding the scary things like other people’s anger, or feeling anger, or thinking that if you’re a Christian that God doesn’t want you to feel anger or talk about it, that no negativity is allowed, and you suppress it inside. Um, and I think part of my understanding is that that can be triggering for some people, to feel their feelings or to be around somebody that’s anger, angry, or to feel that, the anger themselves.
[00:15:38] Starr Cliff: Yeah. I agree. I think that we have labeled it as wrong or bad or that you somehow are lacking in faith if you have anger about things and you’re not just willing to sort of accept things as they come with a happy heart and a smile, you know. But that is just not the human experience, especially those of us who have been through some real trauma and real suffering. Um, you know, I just, I liken it to sort of physical injury or physical pain. We would not send an athlete back out on the field to play with a broken leg, but we want to send people back out to immediately start working and serving and, and, you know, doing all of these things and just sort of getting back into life as a normal, but they have this broken and bleeding heart and they’re not ready to be sent back out. And so if we can start to sort of equate emotional pain with physical pain and how we allow time to heal, and we tend to that wound and we watch it and we monitor it and we think carefully about, you know, is this athlete’s leg ready to perform again? I think we need to give our own that much grace and attention to, are our own hearts ready to be vulnerable or to be back, you know, in community or to, you know, start serving and making ourselves open again. I think it’s right and good, and that all of those things come, but we’ve got to give ourselves the time to heal.
[00:16:54] Lorilee Rager: Absolutely. I mean, time and that, the moment of pausing, and you said grace too, giving yourself the grace. And I, I think all of those come together also in the sense and living your truth to say, yes, my leg still hurts, I’m not ready to get back out there. And feeling okay, feeling okay to say that. That, that, knowing that it’s normal, it’s very human, um, exactly like, like you were saying. That’s a really good analogy with the sports. I really, really like that. I’m going to use that for sure moving forward. And you know, it does, it felt like, growing up in the church, that it was a non-stop gratitude, in my experience. And I loved that. I loved that idea. And as a child, it worked wonderfully, it seems like. It’s just, once you kind of got into the real world and you started experiencing pain and emotions of anger or grief, I didn’t really know what to do with them. So I wanted to just stay positive and thought that was the only way to be. And, um, and, and as a parent too. So, um, can you tell us a little bit, yeah, on that?
[00:18:06] Starr Cliff: I agree. Uh, you know, I think any good thing can be taken and perverted, right, and made bad. And so I think gratitude in its truest form and from a pure heart is such a good thing, but we can absolutely take gratitude and just to use it as a form of coping where we’re just going to jump to sort of false gratitude and only make ourselves look at the positive and only make ourselves look at the blessing and what we’ve been given and what we have. Um, because it just feels scary to look at the hard and maybe we’re afraid it’s gonna bring up doubt or maybe we’re afraid it’s gonna bring up, you know, questions that we don’t know how to answer, especially if we come from any kind of spiritual worldview. Um, and so we just jump right to the positive and the blessing and the good and what we have. Um, but I don’t know that that’s really true gratitude. You know, I don’t know that if you haven’t looked at the hard that you can fully experience the good. And this is something you and I have talked a lot about with Brene Brown, um, and how she talks about numbing. I think that gratitude absolutely can be a form of numbing, but is it even real gratitude at that point? Or is it just sort of this unhealthy coping mechanism. Um, I’ve pulled up her quote that she has in her book Dare to Lead where she says, “We cannot selectively numb emotion. If we numb the dark, we numb the light.” And I think numbing the dark is the phrase that I was looking for there. You know, if we just jump to, well, where’s the silver lining, what we’re trying to do is numb the dark. We’re not looking at that dark cloud, we’re just waiting for that silver lining to emerge. Um, she says, “If we numb the dark, we numb the light. If we take the edge off pain and discomfort, we are by default taking the edge off joy, love, belonging, and the other emotions that give meaning to our lives.” So love Bernie she’s so helpful.
[00:19:50] Lorilee Rager: That is absolutely beautiful. And, and with my backstory was numbing and addiction and recovery from alcohol, that’s where I began to look at those root causes for maybe why I wanted to drink. And I, that’s where I really discovered this toxic positivity. Cause it’s exactly what you’re saying, is when you numb the negative feelings, I didn’t even realize that with the drink I was also numbing any, any positive joy at the same exact time, therefore feeling nothing across the board, which is no way to live. And it’s, it’s a really, really difficult way to constantly be in that struggle of not feeling anything because you don’t want to feel the anger, anger, and you don’t want to feel, um, the sad, but on the other side of that or something that, that could teach you, what is that sadness teaching you? Well it actually teaches you that you really loved someone, you know, for example, or something like that. So it’s, it’s really, really important to connect that again with those, you know, whether it’s a childhood trauma of, of an angry parent, which is triggering, which scares you as an adult, and things like that. So I think it’s really one of those parts of the other side, again, of toxic positivity. So if we can’t use toxic positivity, what can we use? And learning to do what I call, um, sitting with sad and learning to sit with those feelings. I don’t know if you could speak to any ways or how you,
[00:21:29] Starr Cliff: Yeah. You know, I, um, one of the things that really forced me to do some work here and really think about how I was using gratitude or false gratitude, um, and how I was interacting with others is something you and I had talked about in that when we can’t sit with others and they’re sad and we’re rushing them through their sad because of our own uncomfortableness, that that really is an intrinsically selfish act, right. We think that we’re being positive and we’re helping them, we’re wanting to get them through it. But really it’s, it’s selfish when we do it because the reason is we’re just simply uncomfortable with it, because we don’t like hard and we don’t like pain and we don’t like questions, and we don’t want to be with our friends in there’s either. Um, and looking back on my own life and my own friendships and sort of realizing in my immaturity the times that I’ve done that to people, um, I hate that. You know, I hate that I interacted with people in that way. And so I don’t want to be that person. I want to be able to sit with the sad, like you said, and do my own work, right, you know. And I, I’ve learned a lot, um, from, uh, from a handful of friends, specifically Melanie Hill, um, she has a ministry to moms. You can check out her website at, um, MomLifeMinistries.com. But she just, as a personal friend is the best listener I know. And so she can just sit and she can listen and she can nod. She can say, tell me more. And until I met Melanie and sort of saw that modeled, I really think I had zero capacity for that. I did not know how to be in a hard space with people and not be trying to fix it. And some of that came from a great place, you know. If, I don’t know if your listeners are familiar with Enneagram, but I am strong Enneagram Two. I’m a helper. I want to make it better. I want to make it right. And so to shut that off and realize I am not the fixer here, I don’t have to fix this, I just have to be with, I just have to be present, is really hard. But having Melanie do that for me and sit with me in times where she just offered her presence and she just offered herself has been just huge, you know. That I literally, when I’m in difficult situations and I’m feeling antsy and I’m feeling like I want to fix it and I want to take somebody’s pain away, I can just think, okay, what would Melanie do? Well, you know, she would just be with, she would just be with and be present and to say that that is a human experience, you know. That feels right to me, that you would feel that way. Um, so heplful.
[00:23:59] Lorilee Rager: That’s a really helpful lesson to learn. Tell me, let’s go back a little bit. You said the Enneagram, which you know I’m learning a lot about that as well. Explain it. Let’s explain to our listeners what that is in your own words, what the Enneagram behavior styles are.
[00:24:13] Starr Cliff: Sure. Um, so there is a lot of great books, um, about, about the Enneagram. Um, if you just do kind of any Google search, you can probably pull up some of the most popular ones. But it’s just nine sort of personality types that as you read through them, you can sort of see how you’re wired and how your personality tends to react. You can find out what your major motivators are, what motivates your behaviors. Um, as an Enneagram Two, I’m a helper and I want to be liked and I want to be found useful and I want to bring joy to people. And so, um, learning the ways in which that can be both a really positive thing or a really negative thing has been incredibly helpful.
[00:24:53] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. I’ve heard that in all the behavior style tests and evaluations and assessments, there’s the healthy version and the unhealthy version. So, yeah, I remember learning about that. And, I’m a Type Nine, which is a people pleaser, and my motivator is to get, um, as someone said on a lecture I watched one time to get my inner bobber steady. You know, like the bobber on a fishing pole and it’s floating on the water when you’re fishing, you want to get that as steady as possible. And I learned that to keep my inner bobber steady, it is to make sure everyone around me is happy. And that’s where it comes back to toxic positivity is I really need you to be happy so I feel comfortable, again coming back to me and the selfish side of it. But learning to sit with sad and to really be okay with somebody who’s actually hurting and being honest and opening up, and the fact that, you know, it’s okay. It’s okay to sit there instead of saying, you know, the opposite and trying to brush it by and get it to move over and, and say things like, um, new phrases and flex towards instead of, um, “good vibes only,” as you, you hear people say, that you could actually just say, “well, you know, all vibes are welcome”. You know, and, and are there any other like supporting new ways you can respond that you can think of to share?
[00:26:26] Starr Cliff: Well, again, I think, you know, I do see a lot of things, um, in light of my fate, and I do kind of look at the world through a spiritual lens a lot of the time. And so just looking with new eyes, um, at scripture and seeing that really to fully experience emotion, um, Is to experience being made in the likeness of God. You know, that while Jesus was on this earth, he wept over friends that he lost and he had his feelings hurt when his friends didn’t do you know maybe what they should have or he wanted them to, and he had deep compassion on people and just sat with them and they’re paying without giving them a cliche or expecting different behavior out of them. And so, to just see and experience, you know, I do deeply believe and imago dei, all of us are made in the image of God. And when we experience that full range of emotion, we are experiencing being made in his likeness. And why would I only just limit myself to that one little sliver of the pie of always being positive and happy when it’s clear that that not his intent, that is not how we are made. You know, all of our emotions are given, are given to us by him. Um, even just reading the psalms, you know, there are psalms that we sing in church and that we put on greeting cards and that we write on kids’ graduation cards. Um, but if you look carefully at the psalms, there are psalms of deep lament and grief and questions and anger and loneliness and sorrow, and you know, those don’t get put on Instagram, um, feeds a lot of the times, but they are present and they are there. And that gives me just a lot of, honestly, desire to experience that full range of emotions, knowing that, that we are made in the likeness of God and that that’s what he intends for us.
[00:28:09] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. And that’s really beautifully said and makes me think of the toxic positivity side of things on social media as well, because it really is not a area where people are always as authentic and show the negative and show that they’re sad. It’s always just that picture perfect image. So I think that that makes it even harder in today’s world to really focus on the whole, you know, sitting with those feelings and letting people know that it’s not always fun in perfect in that way. And just like you said, we are, we are a whole person, not just one sliver of the positive. And letting people see all of that to be real and authentic is a way that I like to practice, you know, true and honest, uh, feelings, whether those are good or bad or labeled right or wrong.
[00:29:07] Starr Cliff: I agree. I am a person who does, I want deep friendships. That’s important to me. I want to be in a real community with women and friends that I can really know and relate to, and toxic positivity really limits vulnerability. Because if I’m around you and I only want to share the good, the great, the happy, um, I’m probably not going to feel like a safe person for you to share the hard with. And so finding that handful of women that I can really just be vulnerable with and invite them to do so in return. Um, you really cannot achieve that with sort of this attitude that I’m only going to look at the positive.
[00:29:45] Lorilee Rager: You sometimes, there is a level of doubt or lack of trust in the person that’s always positive and bubbly and always spinning it on the good side and the bright side and the silver lining. And I think, um, to get in a true, authentic friendship, it requires what I call radical honesty. Which is scary and vulnerable, but, you know, it hurts just as bad to box it up and hold it all in and always try to just be positive. So radical honesty is another side of, of learning to live not in toxic positivity.
[00:30:24] Starr Cliff: I agree. And it’s not that we have to be radically honest with everybody. You know, there is a kind of shortcut to intimacy that we can, I think even personalities like mine and yours, that we do tend to be a little open, we can share, we can tend to overshare, you know. And again, like I said before, every good thing and sort of be perverted. And so there’s this idea of sharing that we can take to the next extreme and just tell everybody every bit of our business. And so it does take some maturity to not be that person, right. But to find those people, not everybody needs to know all our business, but a handful of people do. And so, you know, being, being emotionally mature and knowing there are some things that I share with my few that I’m going to be just be dead honest with, um, and trust them with that.
[00:31:10] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, that’s, that’s such a good point. Yeah, you don’t need to necessarily stand in the checkout line at the grocery and tell, and tell it all right there to that person. And that person doesn’t need to know it or want to know it either, right? Yeah. And then having that self-awareness is so important as well. And I think from a deep friendship standpoint, um, the emotional acceptance that, that like you provide based on your positivity, it’s merging all that together. And, and I think it’s one of your strongest points that I really, really admire about you. Um, and if you can tell us a little bit more of how you, how you practice that, um, in your friendships.
[00:31:56] Starr Cliff: Yeah. Um, I think that the ultimate, you know, if we’re sort of on a destination with our experiences and the things that happen in our life that are really hard or the moments when we experience suffering or trauma, I think there is a journey that we travel and ultimately, I think we can reach a place of, oh, in hindsight, there was some beauty here. So I don’t ever want to say that that isn’t the ultimate goal or the ultimate hope, neither will I say that I think every person will reach that. Sometimes there’s just questions and we don’t ever get a why. Um, but it’s the, it’s the time, and like we talked about before the giving the people time to heal and not pushing them toward looking for those lessons before they’re ready or letting them happen organically. Um, but being willing, you know, I’m walking with a close friend who, um, this is summer three that she’s visited after a really, really painful divorce. Um, and so, for the first year, the second year, it was really just about the hard and the awful, and how did I get here and this 20 year marriage is over, and this is so hurtful. But in this summer, this third summer, when I saw those moments of rebuilding of her heart and her joy and her coming into her strengths that she would not have known she could do had she not had to suddenly support her two daughters and buy a home on her own and get a new career. You know, I don’t want to be toxic with my positivity, but am I going to call those things out in her and say, I am so proud of you that you have walked this awful road and look what you’re doing. Absolutely I am. Um, so it’s just letting that broad experience and walking with people long enough and staying with them long enough that you can be with them in the pain so that you get to be with them in the joy and the redemption. And it’s, it’s really beautiful. I’m so grateful.
[00:33:52] Lorilee Rager: Absolutely. Yeah, it really, really is. And you just brought up another really good point is you can still be positive. It’s like you said, it’s, you can still celebrate the joy with the person. Even, you can actually still feel two feelings at the same time.
[00:34:08] Starr Cliff: Absolutely. But had I gone there summer one, right when divorce papers had yet to been filed? No way, right. Inappropriate. And had I done that and been asking her in summer one, when she’s in the middle of this terrible divorce to be looking for the positive, um, probably what would have happened is I wouldn’t have gotten to stay in her life in that real of a way. And I wouldn’t have got to experience a year three when it’s happened and I can see it and celebrate it with her. And, um, learning those things, it’s just taken time and maturity and me getting it wrong a lot. Um, but I’m grateful for the, for the times that I have matured and gotten it right and been able to, to walk that road with people.
[00:34:45] Lorilee Rager: That’s a really good motivator too to think of as I’m learning not to use toxic positivity, as I did so heavily or, you know, or, in my young adult life, trying to keep everybody happy is the fact that I can still be positive, but I can still be there with you during the really hard times because the reward is having that longer friendship. Just, just like you said, you’re, year one, you, you likely wouldn’t even have the deep friendships that you have if you would’ve came right out of the gate being completely like, oh, we couldn’t stand him anyways, or that sort of, that sort of thing. And that’s, that’s not what she needed to hear if she even needed to hear anything.
[00:35:31] Starr Cliff: We want to mourn with those who mourn, you know, just like we rejoice with those who rejoice. We want to, we want to be able to be fully present and experience both those things.
[00:35:40] Lorilee Rager: That’s exactly right. And it goes back to even what Brene was saying as well, when it came, when it came to numbing and the fact that learning that toxic positivity is also a level of numbing and has also a level of selfishness, those are the things that as I learned about myself, I didn’t want to be, and it, it hurt, it hurt my heart. So I’m really trying to learn more ways to support my children and to support my coworkers, support, you know, my sisters, to support, um, you know, friendships, and myself and it really not, I know it kinda sounds harsh to say this, but lie to myself.
[00:36:23] Starr Cliff: For sure. I, I like what you said about, about children and parenting. This, I think this is so important. Um, because we do want our kids to have resilience. We want them to have grit. We want them to get through hard things. And we want to communicate, I believe in you and you’re going to get through this and this is going to be fine and you won’t always be in middle school. Um, you know, which is very much, my personality, is just like, you’re going to get through it. It’s going to be fine. Instead of maybe giving them time to just admit man, middle school sucks sometimes. It’s awful. Girls are mean and there’s cliques and it was hard and I embarrassed myself or whatever it is. Um, and I do tend to learn best in the context of, of relationships and friendships and just watching people do things well and letting people into my life in a real enough way that they can speak to things they see in me that they want to challenge honestly, and, and encourage me to grow.
And this definitely happened, um, in an exchange I had with my daughter when she was in middle school. And a friend was over, very different, and my daughter had come home in middle school and it was just one of those sucky days, right. Like, she thought she was going to be involved in something and she kind of got uninvited. There were hurt feelings all around. Um, and as she’s telling me the story, um, I kind of went into my like, oh, I hate that, but no big deal. You have other friends. You know, you have other people you can sit with. Just let those friends go, they don’t sound like they’re being a great friend right now. You know, just kinda move on. And she left and my friend kind of looked at me and said, you are, you know, you’re really robbing her of coming to those conclusions on her own. And I was like, oh, tell me more about what you mean. And she was like, well, you don’t even know if your daughter would get around to that. You know, if she on her own could experience that pain of being left out, and then also the knowledge of like, hey, I do have other friends and it’s going to be okay. For all you know, she may have gotten to that on her own, but you’re not giving him the chance. You know, or maybe she didn’t need to come to that conclusion. Maybe she just really needed to be sad with you today after school. Um, and I’m so grateful for a friend who has loved me well enough and put enough time and energy into our relationship that she had every right to say that to me, um, and to kind of call that out.
And it was monumental and changed my relationship with my daughter so much, you know. And so now when she comes home with those hard stories, I’m able to just say, tell me more about that. How did that feel? Man, that sounds like it was really hurtful. I’m so sorry. Um, and then see the beauty of her coming to her own conclusions about how she can fix it or how she can feel better or not. Maybe she just needs to eat chocolate and feel sad and that’s okay too. So again, kind of tying it all back into being vulnerable, having real relationships, having people that can speak those things to you. Um, So valuable. I mean, I’m just so grateful for that one little exchange and how it shifted things between my daughter and I.
[00:39:13] Lorilee Rager: Yes, yes. And that’s, that’s, to me, real gratitude. That’s really something to be grateful for. And it’s such a learned, you know, process to get through, to hold space for that child and that friend. That’s two great examples of where the friend was able to not give you toxic positivity and actually tell you, oh yeah, great job or great job with your, or just so she didn’t feel uncomfortable in the situation. And then as well for your daughter. And I experienced the same thing with, you know, my son playing golf and has a really bad golf game and he’s really, really upset with himself. And when he hits a really, really bad shot, I think the old me would have been like, Hey, but at least it didn’t go out of bounds. But instead, he really deserves his every right to feel mad and upset about the really bad golf shot. And in his world, that golf shot is everything to him right now. And I don’t need to discount that feeling and rob him of that process of getting through it. There’s no way around the pain, um, with toxic positivity or spiritual bypassing, and you can’t go over it, under it, gotta go through it.
[00:40:33] Starr Cliff: Go through it, like the bear hunt. Can’t go over it. Can’t go around it. You gotta go through it.
[00:40:38] Lorilee Rager: Just like the bear hunt. Just like the bear hunt.
[00:40:40] Starr Cliff: Yeah. And you’re right. I liked what you said about robbing him of knowing, I felt that thing, I lived through that thing, it was hard, it was awful, I hate that I missed that shot, but weeks and months from now, I fully experienced the uck of it and I’m still okay. Both are true, you know?
[00:40:57] Lorilee Rager: Yes, yes. I’m still okay.
[00:40:58] Starr Cliff: I didn’t stay there. I didn’t live there. It’s not three weeks later and I’m still thinking about it. But I was able to fully experience it and now I’m okay. And we’ll go onto the next game.
[00:41:07] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Yeah, that’s exactly right. And I think if we don’t learn to control our own toxic positivity, our children won’t learn either, and our friends around us won’t learn either. And they can get, then they’ll get stuck, and that’s the worst place to be, to watch somebody you really love and care about or yourself to get stuck. And I just had not ever made the connection that by pushing my toxic positivity onto someone would cause them to get stuck. But it really, I think deeply, deeply would. And if you don’t give them that space and that time, and let them process. And then also be honest, say again with the sports analogy that, you know, my leg still hurts. I can’t get out there today. Um, so it’s really, really, really, really important. And I think, I think it’s just so valuable. And I love all of your examples in your lessons. And, do you have anything else to share, um, uh, resources or anything that you wanted to?
[00:42:09] Starr Cliff: No. I’ve mentioned kristen Vanderlip. Um, there is a wonderful sort of paraphrase of the Book of Psalms by a man named Eugene Peterson called The Message Version. Um, really recommend it if you’re looking for sort of that full range of human emotions to read through the Psalms in his paraphrase. Um, And yeah, that’s all I got.
[00:42:30] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Well, I think it’s all really, really good stuff. And we’ll make sure that we, um, put links in the show notes.
[00:42:39] Starr Cliff: Okay.
[00:42:39] Lorilee Rager: And our last question I wanted to ask, just to wrap it all up is, in the theme of ground and gratitude is what tool would you leave, and it may be hard just to name one, but would you leave in the Ground and Gratitude toolbox for others?
[00:42:59] Starr Cliff: Let me go with nature. Can I just say nature? I am really, um, I think passionate is not too strong of a word, about just the power of getting out in the trees and in the woods and experiencing our own smallness as we look up at the stars and experiencing our own, sort of, lack of control as our plans get ruined by a thunderstorm or lightning or a rainstorm. Um, and just putting away our phones, putting away our devices, um, just being present. Feeling what you feel, maybe you feel hot, maybe it feels sticky, maybe you feel uncomfortable. Or maybe the next time you feel truly grateful for that breeze that cools you off. Or for that beautiful bird, you know I’m a birder. Um, but you just notice that there is a, a beautiful gold, goldfinch and you get to see it, you get to experience it and you get to inhabit the same space that it’s in and hear that song. Um, it’s a really, really important, um, thing for me as far as grounding myself and sort of my own limits and my own limitations. Um, and as well as gratitude, I can find a whole lot to be grateful for. Especially by running water and beautiful trees and, um, hiking with a friend.
[00:44:16] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. That’s really beautiful. And a really, really true statement, uh, putting away your devices and getting in that mindful level with nature. It’s a beautiful thing that we all should do. Even if it’s for five minutes. I’m not saying you have to go on a 30 minute hike or drive somewhere to some major state park.
[00:44:36] Starr Cliff: Right. I had a practice last year of just, um, after I got my coffee cause coffees first, always. Um, so, and I have had some coffee today. I was trying to like, get that level, right. Like enough coffee to make me witty and interesting, but like not so much that I was iobnoxious. So you’ll have to tell me if I kind of hit the balance. But you know, but before my coffee and before I did anything else, just simply step out on my front porch and just be. You know, be outside and feel the air and see the sky. Just notice, what is the sunrise doing? What are the clouds doing? What are my neighbors doing? Um, and just kind of being present and still with no expectation. I wasn’t in prayer. I wasn’t asking the Lord to speak to me. I was not looking for any kind of goal. I just had a practice of stepping outside right after I poured my coffee and just being. Um, it was really great, really great.
[00:45:31] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. I think it’s great. I think we all should do that right now. Right when we finish this podcast.
[00:45:37] Starr Cliff: When it’s 101 in Tennessee.
[00:45:39] Lorilee Rager: No matter what the temperaturere. Oh, good. Well, um, thank you so much being a part of the podcast. It’s so, so great to talk to you about this really, really near and dear topic that I know for me was a little scary to think about, but you really helped me think about it more and some tips and ways to, um, practice a little healthier version of myself.
Thank you again to Starr for digging into the realities of toxic positivity. Thank you for tuning into Ground and Gratitude. You can find more information about this show and this awesome topic and much more at GroundAndGratitude.com. Join me next time for more honest conversations, exploring what it means to truly live a life grounded in gratitude.
Ground and gratitude is produced by the Kelly Drake in AO McClain LLC. .