‘You Need to Stay Positive’

In my Phrases I Wish People Wouldn’t Say post, I wrote about how I don’t need a pep talk or a ‘you must stay positive’ speech, but that was a blog post for another day. Here is that post!

It’s worthwhile mentioning that every person handles chronic illness differently, and some people need/want a ‘be positive’ speech or ‘poor you’ remarks, and this isn’t a dig at them. But for me, personally, I don’t like hearing those kind of comments. I try to be positive where I can, so it feels quite disheartening to hear ‘you need to stay positive‘ in response to something I’ve said. It’s also important to say that encouragement is completely different – I like hearing encouragement (more on that later). 

1) It is impossible to be positive all the time. It’s also unrealistic. I saw this in my journaling book, and it made me laugh:  


There is nothing worse than being told repeatedly by people ‘you’ve got to stay positive though’, when you already feel like you are. You feel like jumping up and down, saying ‘What do you think I’ve been doing?!’ Even said with good intentions, it seems like the person is saying ‘you’re not being positive enough’. We’re not built to be positive all the time, it’s ok to have other emotions, and it should be ok to express them without being told to ‘stay positive’. Some people might need this speech, but I think it’s really important for the speaker to gauge:

a) the level of friendship you have with the person you’re saying it to (leave it to close friends to do pep talks, this post doesn’t apply to close friends);

b) whether that person actually needs/wants to hear that, or is the speaker just saying it because they can’t think of anything else to say.

2) Positive thinking itself does not cure illness. It has been proven that it goes a long way in helping manage illness, yes, but it does not cure illness in itself. If positive thinking/stubbornness/determination cured illness, I’d be farting rainbows and sitting on a cartoon cloud with a pot of gold by now.

3) If there’s a way around something, I’ll probably have tried it. I can be incredibly resourceful in finding ways to be able to do something- I don’t like being told I can’t do things, especially if it’s down to my illness. If I say I can’t do something, I will beat you around the head with something if you tell me it’s because I’m not being positive enough.

4) Jokes are not a sign of me being negative. I tell jokes for 2 reasons:

  • I’m testing the waters to see how much you can actually handle. If you look appalled at my joke about being in hospital, I won’t tell you what actually happened because you won’t be able to handle it.
  • It makes me feel better. Telling me I’m ‘not being positive’ in response makes me feel worse.

5) Being realistic and being negative are not the same thing. If I tell you what a Doctor has told me, that’s not me being negative. It’s fact.

6) Being too positive all the time isn’t actually helpful. Your brain needs time to process things, and if you are thinking too positively, it starts to become denial. Denial means you don’t ‘accept’ what’s going on, and it hits you a lot harder when your mind eventually catches up than if you’d processed it properly in the first place.

7) If you listen to me talk about my illness, I (mostly) talk positively about it. You will never hear me say ‘I suffer with Adrenal Insufficiency or phrases like that, I always choose to say ‘I live with‘ or ‘I have Adrenal Insufficiency‘.

Some people reading this might be thinking ‘I’m just not going to say anything to her, I’ll just get it wrong’ or thinking that I’m being militant- that’s not my intention. It’s important to remember that while people might be saying ‘be positive’ for the first time, the recipient has probably heard it a million times, and *that’s* the thing that makes the comment unwelcome, not necessarily what’s being said. And it’s a vicious cycle- until someone says ‘actually, it’s not helpful to hear that’, it just keeps going round and round.

So let’s talk about encouragement. Who doesn’t like hearing encouragement?! This is a way that both people in the discussion can feel positive about what’s been said without saying the phrase ‘be positive’ (or similar). I find the best way to approach it is:

acknowledging what’s being said (avoiding words like ‘poor you’) + encouragement + joke (if you’re good friends).

For example: ‘That must really suck. (acknowledgement) Keep up the good work/you’re doing well/I’m impressed you…./I’m glad you’re feeling a bit better (encouragement). Well done for avoiding hospital this week!/I think that deserves cake!’ (joke).

How is that different from ‘you need to stay positive’? It recognises the fact that it’s bloody hard, that the person is doing the best they can, that they’re human and are allowed to feel upset about it and the fact that you’re not patronising them by unintentionally implying that their apparent lack of positivity is why they’re sick in the first place. If you really, really want to say the word ‘positive’, saying something like ‘You’re doing a good job at staying positive’ is much better received than ‘you need to stay positive’.

As mentioned at the beginning, it’s different for every person with a chronic illness. And it also depends on what’s happening at the time. One thing I do know, is that most people appreciate someone saying ‘I really don’t know what to say and I don’t want to get it wrong’ over a hasty, flippant, ‘you must stay positive’ comment. 🙂 


9 thoughts on “‘You Need to Stay Positive’

  1. Janet SinclaIr says:

    What a helpful OKTHENWHATSNEXT. Hope it helps people not to pussyfoot round you. Other friends with challenging health issues have said the same, but not so clearly, you do have a flair for expressing yourself succinctly. Spread the word!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. CosmicGypsy says:

    I wish I could five STAR this! I will be sharing it on my Facebook though.
    I’ve got a couple of family members that say it every time I talk to them! We live several hours apart and they call when they have seen me post about another sleepless night or the pain Ummm- I haven’t slept in 36 hours- don’t tell me to be freaking positive! 😡 or You try this pain for this long and be all gumdrops and butterflies! Grrr.
    Thank you for this post!
    I love this!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. jkstoneman says:

    I am a friend of your friend Kate and I like your post a lot. I like the example of a helpful comment with the acknowledgment, encouragement and joke. Like suggesting the home answerphone have options for different types of sympathy! This kept us giggling for ages x


  4. eurekabits says:

    I think that people say that out of fear most of the time, in their own experience, being anything than “positive” is like admitting defeat. I used to think that one just had to be “happy” all the time, and you might laugh at this, but it wasn’t until I saw Inside Out that it really sunk in how irrational and plain wrong that would have been. All of our emotions are there for a reason, they are always signaling something to us and if we fail to accept them we are negating ourselves the opportunity to learn about ourselves and grow. I don’t know you, but simply from this post of yours I can sense how mature you can be. I don’t know if you believe in God, but there’s something I profoundly believe in: God never burdens us with something we can’t handle. That makes you an amazing person 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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