“Don’t cry, everything will be alright.” “One should put on a smile every timethey step out of the house, not matter what”. These are phrases often used by people. But are these phrases teaching us healthy ways of living? Probably not. These phases represent toxic positivity. Toxic positivity is the belief that no matter how dire or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset. It's a "good vibes only" approach to life. And while there are benefits to being an optimist and engaging in positive thinking, toxic positivity instead rejects difficult emotions in favor of a cheerful, often falsely positive, facade.
Toxic positivity takes positive thinking to an overgeneralized extreme. Having a positive outlook on life is important but we all know that life is not always easy. In situations when life is not easy, it is important to acknowledge your feelings, thought and reactions. These unpleasant emotions are important and need to be felt and dealt with to be able to conquer the stressful situation.
The line between positivity and toxic positivity is rather slim. For example in situations such as now, when the world is facing a pandemic, thinking about good thoughts becomes difficult. Even engaging yourself in good thoughts is difficult because you are surrounded by grim news. However, even now, there is an explosion of positivity that expects people to believe, "better days are coming". To think of it is not untrue. But, toxic positivity takes every event or incident to an overgeneralised level. And also minimalizes our ability to deal with human emotions that are not necessarily positive.
Negativity, on the other hand, means having a pessimistic outlook towards life. It involves not appreciating the good things in life and always believing that something bad is going to happen. Such an attitude towards life can be very unhealthy and lead to a lack of hope in life.
Now that we understand the difference between toxic positivity and positivity, we can focus on how toxicity can be harmful. Rather than being able to share genuine human emotions and gain unconditional support, people find their feelings dismissed, ignored, or outright invalidated.
It’s shaming: When someone is suffering from something bad or negative in life, their emotions and experience should be validated. However, toxic positivity, like “Thank god, things did not get worse”, although sympathetic, these words can invalidate one’s current experience and make them feel like their feelings are not acceptable. This in turn makes them feel shameful of their emotions.
It causes guilt: It makes them feel like if they can’t find a way to feel positive in the face of a tragedy, they’re doing something wrong.
It avoids authentic human emotions: “Don’t cry, you are not weak.” Ever wondered why crying is shunned by society. The society wants to constantly put up a positive happy front. It promotes toxic positivity in many ways. And in this process it neglects actually experiencing the “negative” and real human emotions. As people, we don’t acknowledge the importance of experiencing and dealing with every emotion that naturally comes to us. Only when we experience darker feelings, can we appreciate the brighter ones.
It prevents growth: It allows us to avoid feeling things that might be painful, but it also denies us the ability to face challenging feelings that can ultimately lead to growth and deeper insight.
The “positive vibes only” mantra as advocated by the millennial generation can be very ignorant of people’s true problems. To be asked to look at the bright side of things when one is going through personal, financial loss or coping with difficult situations, is just cruel and oblivious behaviour. Following can be the signs that you have internalized toxic positivity and the ways to avoid it.
?If you tend to brush off problems rather than face them head on.
?If you feeling guilty often about being sad, angry, or disappointed.
?If you hide your true feelings behind feel-good quotes that seem more socially acceptable.
?If you hiding or disguise yourself from your true feelings.
?If you tend to minimize other people's feelings because they make you uncomfortable.
?If you shame other people when they don't have a positive attitude.
?If you try to be stoic or "get over" painful emotions.
If the above situations are right for you, then you must introspect. Following can be the ways to avoid toxic positivity,
?Manage your negative emotions, but don't deny them. Negative emotions can cause stress when unchecked but they can also provide important information that can lead to beneficial changes in your life.
?Be realistic about what you should feel. When you are facing a stressful situation, it’s normal to feel stressed, worried, or even fearful. Don’t expect too much from yourself. Focus on self-care and taking steps that can help improve your situation.
?It’s okay to feel more than one thing. If you are facing a challenge, it’s possible to feel nervous about the future and also hopeful that you will succeed. Your emotions are as complex as the situation itself.
?Focus on listening to others and showing support. When someone expresses a difficult emotion, don’t shut them down with toxic platitudes. Instead, let them know that what they are feeling is normal and that you are there to listen.
?Notice how you feel. Following “positive” social media accounts can sometimes serve as a source of inspiration, but pay attention to how you feel after you view and interact with such content. If you are left with a sense of shame or guilt after seeing “uplifting” posts, it might be due to toxic positivity. In such cases, consider limiting your social media consumption.