Positivity versus Joy

People look to many different things to bring them joy – money, status, a beautiful place to live, the perfect partner, children, friends…. . However there is also generally a sense that a person’s way of being – who or how they are – has a greater influence on their happiness than the people or things around them. Many of us strive to find this joy inside ourselves, and equally we hope that those we love will experience this kind of joy and we want to support them in finding this for themselves – but how do we find this? In working towards joy being positive about ourselves and our lives sounds like a logical starting point and is encouraged by many different ideologies and schools of thought – surely choosing to think positive thoughts is going to bring us closer to joy….isn’t it? This article discusses why this isn’t necessarily the case, and how positivity can actually move us further away from experiencing the deep and lasting joy for which we are searching.


A core belief that I hold when working with the shadow is that true joy comes from knowing, accepting, loving and blessing all parts of ourselves. This means knowing and accepting the parts of us that are in deep grief, or filled with rage, frightened, hesitant, hateful or full of shame or guilt. It means welcoming these parts of ourselves in to our sacred realm and tenderly caring for them and listening to their needs and the powerful emotions that they carry. As we come to know and accept more and more of ourselves we find we are more able to sit back, relaxed in our own skin, knowing there is nothing in us that we fear, nothing we need to hide. Sitting in this place colours all our life experiences. It gives us a deep confidence whatever is happening around us and allows joy to arise even in the midst of life’s most difficult challenges. We lead ourselves through life from a foundation of joy. Throughout our life we can find joy bubbling up from this place in us, unforced and unbidden. When it comes there is no reaching, no trying, joy simply flows.


On the other hand a rigid insistence on positivity at all times, constantly  striving for only the ‘positive’, requires a denial or repression of the ‘negative’ ‘unwanted’ aspects of ourselves – a pushing away or hiding of these unwelcome parts. This can be in complete opposition to the process of self acceptance described above. Other people can unwittingly encourage this in us through the espousing of certain oversimplified spiritual beliefs and practices and also through platitudes and well known phrases such as…..

♦ Can’t you just be happy? ♦ No one likes someone who’s angry all the time. ♦ You create more of what you focus on. ♦ What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. ♦ It’s all happening for a reason. ♦ Time heals. ♦ If you can’t think of anything nice to say don’t say anything at all. ♦ Cheer up – it might never happen. ♦ There’s no point in being sad. ♦ You look much prettier when you smile. ♦ Man up. ♦ Boys don’t cry. ♦ You have to be strong. ♦ I’m sure he/she loves you really. ♦ Can’t you just be more flexible? ♦ Just go with the flow. ♦ It will all look better in the morning. ♦ Life doesn’t give you things you can’t handle. ♦hYou’ve been through worse. ♦ Think about it from his/her point of view. ♦ I can’t believe they really meant to do that. ♦ That’s not a very constructive thing to say. ♦ You have to forgive or it will eat you up. ♦ You’re the only person who suffers if you hold on to this anger. ♦ You’re being very negative. ♦ Negative emotions give you cancer.

On top of the pain you are already experiencing you are now experiencing the pain of not being allowed to be yourself. Of being told your feelings are inappropriate, invalid. You now carry the shame of being ‘wrong’ somehow in the way you are dealing with your upset, and the guilt of upsetting others with your ‘negative’, ‘unhelpful’ responses.

However the people who make these comments aren’t intending to be cruel. They are simply sharing their own manual for living life. They have no experience of emotions being helpful in anyway. They just don’t see the point in them. The problem here is that the value of emotions isn’t something that can be explained intellectually – it has to be experienced. The invitation ‘Why not just be happy?’ is hard to argue with – it certainly sounds like a very good idea! Why would you take the risk of experiencing these painful emotions if you have no prior experience of what is to be gained by allowing them?
Yet unfortunately these phrases that sound so benign, even caring, are subtly (or not so subtly) asking the person to move away from what they are feeling in that moment and suggesting that it is not ok or welcome for them to be experiencing this. How can we possibly feel joy if we are getting the message that parts of us are unacceptable and we have to keep them hidden? We are being told to hide our distress away, and in doing we lose the opportunity of ever finding the comfort and support which could bring us relief. Resigning ourselves to this can create inner despair and hopelessness. Relentless positivity requires a deadness to our true selves, a repression of the emotions that are our very life force. Our smile – although beautiful, will have a hollowness behind it, and we will regularly need to find a place to hide, since being around others in this way is exhausting and impossible to sustain. Behind this lovely smile which others may enjoy and encourage an ugly battle is going on, where parts of us are being banished, gagged, strangled and silenced. This is very painful for our true self. A dream that many people have described having is one where they become aware they have killed someone and they are trying to hide the body. One interpretation of such a dream is that we have killed a part of ourselves and we are trying to keep it hidden. In our waking life we may develop the sense of wearing a mask and yet not really understand where this feeling comes from, as hiding our true selves has become second nature and we are no longer consciously aware we are doing it.

An insistence on positivity comes from a place of fear

It is important to recognise here that relentless positivity comes from a place of fear – fear of powerful emotions and the energy they contain. There can, of course, be validity in this fear – emotions can certainly be overwhelming, even damaging if they are not held and met effectively. However the insistence on positivity needs to be recognised for what it is – a negative response to intense emotions, driven by fear. It is a running away from what is true and alive because it threatens to overwhelm us and there is no one around us who can help us to contain it. It is a coping strategy for dealing with aspects of ourselves that we believe are not loved or welcome. It is a contorted, desperate straining for the light because we do not know how to be with the darkness.

The challenges and gifts in accepting ourselves

It takes a brave parent to raise a child and to welcome all their emotions. It takes a brave person to be in a relationship where all emotions are welcome. Yet the riches of such a way of life are profound, and the vitality and joy that naturally flow from this far outshine the fragile ‘light’ of positivity and the brittle unsustainable nature of such an outlook.

If you try, yet struggle, to be positive in your life it may be that this way of handling emotions was a coping mechanism that served you well as you were growing up, or got you through a particularly challenging time in your life, but perhaps now you are outgrowing it. When you reach a point where life is safe enough you may wish to weigh up the risks of exploring these ‘negative’ sides of yourself and to see if you want to take the challenge of exploring these hidden thoughts and feelings. This opens up the possibility of discovering the joy that can be released along with the grief and the pain.
The fact that joy comes from accepting the ‘negative’ parts of ourselves is one of the many paradoxes that we work with in Shadow Work. This is why arguments such as ‘You create what more of what you focus on’ along with other statements listed above, whilst having some validity in some situations, simply don’t express the complex way in which human beings work.

Being with the ‘negative’ feelings in others

In Shadow Work we believe that the Sovereign part of us is the place where this self love lies and there is a link to further information about this Sovereign part of us at the end of this article. If we do not love ourselves we cannot possibly fully love another. Not because we do not want to, but because it is impossible to offer someone something that we are not capable of giving to ourselves. If we cannot accept our own places of shame/weakness/anger/ hatred/grief/fear we cannot accept these in another. And if we don’t accept these parts of someone else then we are not fully loving them. Our love is conditional and shallow and the other person will sense our judgement and feel pain at having these parts of themselves denied.

We can sometimes push other’s feeling away totally instinctively without realising we’re doing it, or it may be because we just don’t know what else to say. Sometimes we simply can’t bear to sit and witness someone else’s pain and we may find ourselves offering them one of the platitudes above in the hope that we can move swiftly away from such difficult thoughts and feelings. If you’d like to try a different way of being with people who are experiencing ‘negative’ emotions one place to start is simply to show that you are comfortable with the place they are in and willing to allow it. If someone is telling you about something painful that’s going on you can try simply saying ‘That sounds really upsetting.’ Or ‘I can see why that would make you really angry.’ Or ‘I’m so sorry that happened.’ or ‘You really can’t see any good in life at the moment can you?’ Try to show them as best you can that you get what they’re experiencing in this moment, and you have no need for them to be feeling anything different. It is tremendously powerful just to let another person know you are willing to be with their ‘negative’ emotions. That you don’t fear these and don’t feel the need to push them away. But of course, the most important place to start practicing this acceptance and allowing is with yourself – and this is the biggest challenge of all – and for most of us a life long journey.


For further information about Shadow Work and the support available please visit: ShiatsuAndShadowWorkBristol.co.uk

Further reading:

Are you Leading From Fear Or From Joy?

A talk about the Sovereign archetype

The Myth of Positivity


What is the point of sadness?

Sadness is something many of us try to avoid feeling. However, as with all the pure emotions, we believe it plays an important role in life. The purpose of sadness is to help us release the pain of our loss so that we are free to find new connections and to risk love again. After identifying our loss and allowing our grief  to flow we are free to find a joyful or more meaningful way of remembering, and with time to move forward in our life to form fresh connections.

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Releasing our sadness grounds us and brings a life giving fluidity.  Rather than rigidly ignoring our pain and sorrow and soldiering ever onwards, sadness helps us slow down and soften to the flow of our life. It allows space for us to sit with the realities of life and of human relationships.

When we cry our tears release toxins which otherwise gets stored in our body and can cause pain and ill health. When tears flow freely they leave us feeling lighter, and bring healing by allowing us to let go. They help us mourn and then move to a place where we can eventually find a joyful or more meaningful way to remember, to honour that which we have lost, and stay connected in a rich rewarding way, rather than painful, way. In Shadow Work we believe that we are all deeply loving, deeply connected beings and will always remain connected to that which we have lost. 1512275_517505665039319_27714160_nHowever we have a choice as to whether to remain connected painfully or joyfully.

Sadness softens us and re-awakens a sense of trust in the flow of time, and in the possibility of healing. This can eventually bring a gentleness and acceptance to the loss so that with time we can transform what has been lost in to a memory that enriches our life. If our sadness does not get a chance to flow then we will maintain a painful or dysfunctional connection to that which we have lost, and we’ll be unable to fully re-engage with life.


We believe that if we fully grieve the loss we leave space for a new, more joyful way of remembering to be found, where the good in the connection can be remembered and celebrated. This is particularly important for complicated grief when one can be left with many negative, confusing and painful memories of the person or connection that was lost.

g1024px-Rome_WWStory_angel_in_griefFor example:

•Loss of a loved one to suicide.

•losing a partner when they have an affair.

•Loss of a loved one when you feel responsible for your parting.

•Loss of a loved one when you feel responsible for their death.

•Loss of your country due to civil war.

It’s important that all the negative emotions, the pain and anger and mixed feelings are fully explored and released so that, with time, it is possible to remember what was meaningful, important or even joyful to us about these connections.


Sadness revitalises and rejuvenates us, connecting us deeply to ourselves, and to our emotions. Nothing has to be ‘done’ for this to happen. The emotion, (and there may be a mixture of emotions as we said earlier, not just sadness), simply needs to be allowed to flow. Although this is ‘simple’ it is not necessarily easy and many of us carry unprocessed grief from losses we have sustained in our life. We will talk further about this in our next two blogs:

What happens if we repress our sadness?


-When sadness seems overwhelming…



25032_337836914562_2126862_nb - Copy“To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”

Exerpt from “In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver, from American Primitive.

“Learning to accept yourself and others. To accept that what you have lost is well and truly lost forever, and that sadness is now your trusted companion. To be courageous, humble, loving and forgiving is no small task. But this is what you are to undertake if you are to find your way out of the prison of depression and never to return to it.”

Dorothy Rowe – on depression

For further information on exploring the shadow please visit


To watch a DVD about the Lover Archetype, which is the Archetype which we relate to sadness and grief, follow this link:


What causes sadness?

In Shadow Work we believe that sadness occurs primarily when we experience loss. This may be the loss of someone we love, or loss of connection to someone or something important to us, or even the loss of a part of ourself or a particular identity we have held. This loss can come in many different forms, for example:

  • Loss of someone when they die

  • Loss of our connection to a particular place when we move

  • 1920119_296974713789941_337269301_nLoss of a job

  • Loss of a pet

  • The end of a relationship

  • Loss of a child when they go to school or leave home

  • Loss of a belief or a religion

  • Loss of connection with family when a young adult leaves home

  • Loss of our youth

  • Loss of status

  • Loss of identity if we get married

  • Loss of identity if our circumstances change

  • Loss of the old relationship with our partner when a baby is born

  • Loss of our health

The list is endless…..

1926895_296964867124259_481446785_nLife is constantly changing, and most change involves letting go of something. The loss of the old situation. John C. Maxwell says ‘Change is inevitable – growth is optional.’ Whether or not change leads to growth depends to a large extent on our ability to grieve, to release our sadness and free ourselves up for what is coming next. Sadness is our natural and healthy response to loss of any kind. If we don’t understand this it can sometimes be hard to understand why we’re sad, and our sadness may confuse or frighten us.

For example:

  • A man who has worked many long hours to afford a new home for himself and his young family may find himself sad when the day to move finally arrives. This confuses him. However, when he looks deep inside he realises he will miss the old neighbourhood, the friends there, the carefree nature of their life. It helps if he can realise that it’s ok, in fact it’s necessary for him to feel this sadness in order to move on and embrace the next phase of his life with an open heart.

  • A woman ends a painful, abusive relationship that she’s been longing to get out. She then finds herself grieving the loss of the very person she had longed to get away from. She needs to understand this sadness and allow herself to fully feel it if she is ever to be truly free of the relationship.

1797992_527454747368350_1360172182_n‘Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness; touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments and life itself is grace.’

~Frederick Buechner~

Sadness is our natural response to loss and change, even when it is change that we have longed for. If we don’t understand our sadness it is hard for us to manage it in the appropriate way, and we may often feel ‘silly’ if we find ourselves feeling sad on occasions where we are ‘meant’ to be feeling happy.

In Shadow Work we believe that as human beings we are ‘hard wired’ to connect. We will connect to whoever or whatever is around us – and then we will grieve for this when it is gone. It is important that we understand and recognise our sadness if we are to work with it in an effective way that allows us to eventually move on whilst carrying with us a loving memory of that which has been lost.

For further reading on working with the shadow please visit



For further reading on sadness please see the following three blogs: