Friends and family often encourage people with illness to stay positive. Is this really helpful?
For people who are medically ill, keeping an optimistic outlook can be tough. Illness is scary and forces them to deal with uncertainty, a lack of control, surrendering to doctors, and the reality that life is finite. All of that is pretty frightening and difficult, so I am not surprised when someone cannot feel positive all of the time when coping with illness.
People who are sick do not need to feel positive all of the time.
It can be trying for people who are ill when friends and family encourage patients to feel happy or optimistic. When a well-intentioned friend says such things as, “Everything happens for a reason,” or “I am sure that you will be stronger from this,” it can (albeit, unintentionally) pressure patients into acting cheery, when they may not feel that way.
In my experience, people struggling with illness want acknowledgement about how hard their situation is. Those who are ill may not want to dwell on how difficult things are. Yet, when friends and family are overly focused on being positive, it can result in patients feeling pressured to articulate how much they are suffering! Hence the paradox: When the loved ones of people suffering with illness make space for negative emotions, hopeful feelings and better coping often follow.