Faking positivity: it’s nothing but exhausting

Overcontrolled (OC) individuals are experts at masking their feelings, and are especially talented when it comes to hiding painful emotions, like sadness and frustration. Pretending to be okay, faking happiness, and putting on a forced smile are all behaviours I adopted for many years, to the point that they came naturally to me.

As a result of COVID-19, I worked virtually from home for 3 years. It was challenging because I worked and lived in the same physical space. However, the minute I shut down my laptop, I could decompress and stop being in “work mode.” It helped that my workplace valued self-care, that we were told not to respond to emails on our days off, and that we were never asked to stay late.

Before the pandemic, I worked in-person at a children’s hospital. There were clear boundaries that separated my personal life from my professional one. At the end of my shift, I took the bus home, and it was like a ritual, which allowed me to go from “work mode” to “chill out mode,” both physically and psychologically.

These days, I find myself in an interesting situation. I work at a school, and I live on-site. This means that my personal space is also my workplace, and this has led to blurred boundaries. As a result of the school setting, I put pressure on myself to embody my work persona all the time, which happens to be the time during which my OC tendencies take over, front and centre.

An interaction took place the other day, and it ended up being an opportunity to practice self-enquiry. I was feeling deeply sad, and I wanted to allow myself to feel sad, even if that meant having a sad expression on my face.

A co-worker noticed my facial expression and asked me if I was okay. I automatically perked up. Even though I felt like crying, I forced a natural smile, changed my posture, shifted my tone of voice, and said, “I’m fine, thanks! :-)”

Afterwards, I felt exhausted. I had forgotten how exhausting it was, to pretend to be okay when you weren’t. It was not only tiring, but also made you feel isolated.

This led to a self-enquiry practice:

What do you do when your professional life significantly overlaps with your personal one?

What happens when your friends and people you live with are also your co-workers?

What is the middle path here?

For example, I eat all my meals at a dining hall with all my co-workers and all the students present. Sometimes, I want to eat in silence, with a blank look on my face. It’s hard to do that when everyone is chatting loudly. I worry that if I appear upset, all the attention will shift onto me, which will make things worse. Then, I’ll have to decide whether to tell the truth, or pretend that I’m okay when I’m not. However, I remind myself that it’s not all or nothing. There’s a middle ground between full on self-disclosure with all the intimate details, and closing yourself off to the point that you’re lying about how you feel.

The challenge for me is that I have to go against my urges to share too much, but also push myself to share that I’m not feeling 100%, instead of pretending I’m perfectly fine.

When my OC tendencies had a strong grip on my life, I was determined to regulate every behaviour, choose every facial expression, and exert so much self-control that I could present exactly as I wished to those around me. But going against what your body and mind naturally want to communicate or social signal is tiring, and frankly, it does nothing but add to your misery.

In the end, I remind myself that I value authenticity, and that wise self-disclosure is a practice. Hopefully, if I allow myself to be my authentic self, then the kids will feel like they have permission to be their authentic and brilliant selves, too.


Daphnée is currently passionate about supporting adolescent girls in a school setting, traveling to European countries, and eating all shapes of pasta. When she is not reading the RO DBT manual (for the second time), she enjoys fiction novels, listening to Taylor Swift, and petting Golden Retrievers.