Don’t Tell Me To Look For The Silver Lining
Dandelion & Queen of Swords (Smith-Waite Centennial Tarot, U.S. Games copyright 2013)
I’ve been away from my blog for quite a while now, mostly due to attempting to get a handle on my depression and some recent trauma. I’ve done a lot of thinking about trauma, emotions, conflict, positivity, and negativity. Here I try to organize these thoughts.
I know there is a lot of popular talk about the power of perspective and choice in how we feel. The ole, “You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control how you react.” I get it, and I agree with it to a point for “smaller” life happenings. However, like most advice I’ve gleaned from Tarot since I began practicing, I believe this adage is best understood as having positive and negative aspects, a time and a place.
I have had a life full of trauma. I’m not looking for pity – it’s just a fact. And I am not interested in anyone telling me that I can work through all that trauma with the “power of positive thinking.” Fuck that shit. The power of positive thinking is for:
- Choosing to not complain when my husband doesn’t replace the trash bag.
“I can do it myself!”
- Brushing off repeated spam calls or a rude cashier.
“Some folks just getting paid beans to do their job, and maybe they’re having a bad day. No reason to make it worse or let it consume my day!”
- The neighbor’s dog escaping their yard (again), coming onto my porch, and sticking its face in my glass of iced tea.
“What a cute, friendly dog!”
The power of positive thinking is not for trauma, abuse, and betrayal. Maybe it does work for some folks, but I am not one of those folks, and I don’t think folks like me should give ourselves one more thing to feel bad about because we say, “No! There is no silver lining, this didn’t happen for a reason, and I’m sad and pissed and devastated and messed up. Things are not okay, and I won’t act like they are!”
Because of my background, I have a strong, visceral reaction when I hear any of the following:
- Turn the other cheek
- Everything happens for a reason
- Look for the silver lining
- You control how you feel
“Turn the other cheek,” says to me, “Your feelings are worth less than your abuser’s. Keep taking the abuse.” I am fond of explaining that a person only has so many cheeks.
“Everything happens for a reason,” says to me, “Your pain and suffering is inevitable, unavoidable, and what god / goddess / the universe / source / etc wants for you.” No, actually, my trauma-level pain and suffering would be quite avoidable if certain people had not abused me.* And I am worth more than being treated like trash! Period.
“Look for the silver lining,” is like a hybrid between “the power of positive thinking” and “everything happens for a reason.” Surely there’s some lesson so shiny and pretty that this was all worth it! Nope. There’s not.
“You control how you feel,” is another way of saying that there are good and bad emotions and that you should only “choose” the good ones. No and no. Our emotions communicate important information to us about what is going on, and even the uncomfortable, painful ones are important to honor and acknowledge. Those are the ones that tell us, “Hey, something’s not right here.” That a boundary is being violated, that the rug has been pulled out from under us, that maybe just because something has “always” been one way doesn’t mean it should keep being that way. These emotions, such as fear, anger, and sadness, are our bodies waving flags at us: “Hey! Some evaluation is needed here!”
The loveliness of positivity gets a lot of press. And that’s, well, lovely. But I think it is incredibly important for people who are survivors of trauma and abuse to also hear that positivity is not always the right answer. Because when this advice is given to survivors, it can feel an awful lot like, “Shh, nobody wants to hear that,” or, “It couldn’t have really been as bad as you say.” And that further alienates and isolates us, making it more difficult to heal and feel like valuable, worthwhile people.
I am the Queen of Swords. I have been to hell and back, and I don’t want any pithy advice that (surely unintentionally) invalidates my emotions, experiences, and understanding of self.
*I am definitely aware that abusers can be people who have been abused themselves. At the same time, I do believe that once we reach adulthood, we must do everything in our power to do the difficult shadow-work and not pass on that legacy. Are there structural / cultural issues that need to be addressed that would empower, assist, and encourage people to better heal and recognize their behaviors? Without a doubt! Sometimes “everything in our power” isn’t enough as individuals to heal / change / grow. Community and access to resources are so important. Perhaps that’s a post for another time.