Glad to be sad

Have you ever wondered why other people don’t like that new show with the woman who turns into a banshee when the moon is new, when you can’t wait for the new episode to the extent that for the first time in your life you have pirated the series online? Perhaps you don’t understand why the reaction to your new hairstyle, which you think is fabulous, has been less than enthusiastic? Yes, the world of “other people” can be mystifying but it is worth getting your head around the fact that others may see the world very differently to the way you do because, as a new study shows, if you want to really help your friends sometimes you need to get out of your own head.

There is a lot of talk about happiness these days but sometimes being “happy” becomes conflated with being “positive” when the two don’t necessarily have to coincide. At times in life it is entirely appropriate to be sad and to be happy at the same time. With such an emphasis on positivity dominating the zeitgeist at the moment however, it is tempting to cajole a sad friend into a looking on the bright sad. As a new study shows though, for some people this is counter-productive.

These researchers found that people with low self-esteem do not respond well to “positive reframing” from friends who try to put a positive spin on a bad situation. The low self-esteem person will see a negative event as affirmation of the view they already have of themselves. According to these researchers what such a person wants is understanding and appreciation that the negative emotions they are experiencing are appropriate, reasonable, and understandable.

Friends report that trying to put a positive slant on things for a friend with low self-esteem is both frustrating and tiring. So people trying to help friends with low self-esteem see a situation more positively often end up feeling worse about themselves.

All in all, although it might seem best to try and encourage your friend to look on the bright side, if they have low self-esteem it might not be a good option for either of you. Rather, it might be better to put yourself in their shoes, see the situation as they see it, and provide support for them in what they are feeling. At a later date healing and learning may occur, but there are occasions when people just need to feel supported. Sometimes a friend in need just needs you to see their need.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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