top of page

Beyond the Silver Lining: Growth Happens in the Dark

"Every cloud has a silver lining" is a well-known saying for a reason. In many cases, focusing on the bright side of a bad situation can help you cope and recover. On the surface, cheerfulness does sound like a better choice than wallowing in depression. Dig a little deeper, and you might find there’s danger in using positivity to avoid pain.

What is toxic gratitude?

When complex, difficult challenges arise, confronting, processing, and recovering can require embracing your negative feelings rather than avoiding them. Putting too much emphasis too quickly on finding the good in the bad can mean you’re not dealing with what’s happening.

There is actually a name for this very common reaction. It’s called toxic gratitude. Remember all the times you’ve heard someone say, “I’m so sorry that happened, but at least…” or “Cheer up, you still have…” This is the essence of toxic gratitude. Although most people are genuinely trying to comfort you as you’re hurting, the unavoidable result is that you feel minimized. You might start thinking your pain is wrong, that you should stop letting others see what you’re going through, or that you should just get over it as quickly as possible. You’re denied the opportunity to be seen and heard—the very thing that can provide comfort.

If your home burns down, you can think, "At least I made it out alive." But if everything you own is gone, that’s a huge loss, and not just a material one. Yes, you survived, and that’s most certainly a positive. That doesn’t mean you don’t need time to grieve what you lost. Trying to push past your emotions using gratitude as a shield might help with short-term relief, but the need for long-term emotional work doesn’t go away.

Minimizing pain with positivity is saying, “Your feelings of sadness and grief aren't valid because there are still positive aspects of your life.” This is the lie of toxic gratitude.

Give the grieving space

Even if you’ve never been on the receiving end of toxic gratitude, you may have made this mistake with others. Seeing someone else in pain can be difficult, and the instinct to help is human. You want to be supportive, but you might not know how. Combine this with the very real fear of saying something wrong, and your natural inclination might be to try to cheer a grieving person up. 

When someone is going through a tough time, resist the urge to try to distract them. A reminder of why they have no excuse to be down can dismiss the difficulty of their journey. Suggesting gratitude amid pain can invalidate feelings and disregard the need for time to rebuild. Give them the same as you would want: the space to recover, whatever that looks like.

Not every situation has a silver lining. Some situations just suck.

Looking for those silver linings is almost never helpful in the midst of processing a trauma. Instead, work toward becoming comfortable sitting with raw feelings, allowing yourself and others to feel emotions that might not be enjoyable. As scary as this place can be, the result can be positive.

The importance of feeling and healing

I believe in the value of being thankful and the power of a positive perspective. I also believe challenges in life can present valuable opportunities for growth. In the face of adversity, isn’t feeling and growing more productive than ignoring and burying?

When you prioritize searching for a silver lining over working through negative emotions, you can miss out on emotionally evolving and preparing for the next storm. After all, there are some situations where, even if you can find a positive, you should stay where you are to feel and heal. Depending on the situation, this could take a lifetime. Recovering takes work.

Gratitude will always be important, as is a positive attitude, but distracting from the negative and covering anguish in the name of gratefulness can be as damaging as the original trauma.


bottom of page