Look at Me! I Can Do a Back Handspring!
When I was in seventh grade, I went to a slumber party and did a back handspring to impress my friends. I jumped up and backwards, arching my back in mid-air while preparing to land on my hands so that I could flip back over onto my feet.
Unfortunately, I hadn't warmed up and was careless. As I placed my hands on the floor, one of my fingers was bent on my right hand. I cried out and collapsed in pain as all of my weight landed on my contorted hand.
But I assured my friends that I was okay, really I'm fine, hahaha, let's have fun... while holding ice on my hand all night.
When I went to the hospital the next day, they took an x-ray and said I'd fractured my hand. I was in a splint and a soft cast for six weeks, and had to learn to write with my left hand.
Cool, now I can write with both hands!
They Called Me "Pollyanna" – Compliment or Insult?
Pollyanna, a character from an early 20th century novel, had a beautiful gift of being able to make the best out of any situation, no matter how horrible.
I didn't know much about her until later in my life, when people would call me a "Pollyanna"... but not in a good way.
This was very confusing for me. Wasn't optimism a good thing? Wasn't the constant search for a silver lining something that the world needed?
The Fine Line Between Denial and Optimism
What I've learned (yes, the hard way) is that optimism isn't truly optimism unless it's grounded in truth.
The Pollyanna in me still thinks that being able to write with my left hand was a cool outcome – what other kind of experience would motivate me to learn something like that?
But by trivializing my pain and pretending that I was okay when I wasn't, I was denying my own needs and causing myself to suffer even more.
I got into such a habit of laughing when I was in pain, that I eventually ended up in an abusive relationship. Talk about denial!
Don't Just Listen. Also Watch.
For me, the key to ensuring that my optimism is authentic is to expand my awareness in all directions – not just towards the information I want to hear.
Only then can I come back around to find a real silver lining that can uplift people in a meaningful way, rather than one made up out of thin air and blurted out like an empty platitude.
So let's consider the case of a dysfunctional relationship. My tendency to believe in someone's good intentions and to ignore problematic behavior – even when it is potentially dangerous to me – is a huge vulnerability.
But if I can muster up the fortitude to face the more unpleasant facts that are staring me in the face, and give my inner Pollyanna a break once in awhile, I have acquired extremely valuable data that can help me to stay safe.
This doesn't mean that I have to become a suspicious skeptic. I can still listen to what people say, give them the benefit of a doubt, and see their inner beauty no matter how deeply I have to search for it.
But I also keep my mind open (360 degree awareness) so that I can receive additional data, such as noticing how people express themselves in the world. What do they do? What don't they do? How do they treat others? How do they treat themselves?
And all of the above observations also apply to noticing my own behavior. That means allowing myself to see my inner beauty as well as noticing when I'm not expressing my best self in the world.
© 2015 Dr. Kristin Rose