Toxic positivity – if one would deeply think about it, this concept is quite oxymoronic. It is the idea of being happy and cheerful despite all unfavorable circumstances. But is that really possible? To constantly maintain a sunny disposition even when beaten down by the battles we face? Surely, this wouldn’t be sustainable in the long term.
While it is good to encourage ourselves to “stay positive” and power through, it is also essential to acknowledge that we are going through hard times. Because forcing positivity in tough situations can actually have detrimental effects. It’s one thing to be hopeful and motivated in the face of adversity – it’s another to deny that something bad is even happening.
Defining Toxic Positivity
It is important to understand that while toxic positivity is not an official psychological term or diagnosis, it is still more than a simple platitude or buzzword. It refers to rejecting difficult emotions and replacing them with empty positivity. In other words, masking our real feelings with a fake facade. Unfortunately, toxic positivity is not just self-imposed. It can also involve dismissing someone else’s struggles by telling them to “look on the bright side.”
Medical News Today writes that “toxic positivity is an obsession with positive thinking” and that it imposes such as the only solution to problems.
Toxic positivity is ultimately a dangerous concept because it implies that being negative is bad and must be pushed away when in reality, we all experience difficult emotions from time to time – and that’s perfectly okay.
Examples of Toxic Positivity
Toxic positivity can take many forms – from seemingly innocuous phrases to more egregious statements. Sometimes, one might not even be aware that they are perpetuating it. Here are a few examples of how this concept can manifest itself in everyday conversations:
- “Things could be worse, so don’t feel too bad about it.” – But is a person really not allowed to feel distressed or angry at their current situation?
- “You should be grateful” or “At least you have a job, so you should count your blessings instead of worrying.” – These imply that a person’s struggles don’t matter because they should feel lucky for what they have. It pressures them to be grateful regardless of their circumstances. Which is a little unfair, don’t you think? No matter our industry, we all have to face our own challenges, and rainy days can make us feel down. We can’t be expected to show the same level of enthusiasm every day.
- “Don’t think about it too much” or “Just brush it off and don’t let it get to you – life is too short!” – These make it sound like one is not allowed to take the time to process their emotions and explore the full range of their feelings.
Implications of Toxic Positivity
The effects of toxic positivity are far-reaching. According to a study from the International Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research, concealing and repressing our emotions can be unhealthy for the mind and body and “give rise to stress-related physiological reactions.”
Here are other significant implications that can harm one’s mental and emotional well-being.
- Inauthenticity: People who struggle with toxic positivity may feel the need to present themselves as happy and positive all the time, even when they’re not feeling that way. This can lead to inauthenticity and feelings of disconnection from their own emotions.
- Feelings of guilt and shame: Toxic positivity can make a person feel guilty when they don’t feel happy or optimistic, even in the face of tragedy or trauma. Or ashamed for having negative emotions and being unable to “keep it together.” This unhelpful way of thinking only makes them feel even worse about themselves. It can further exacerbate any mental health issues they may already have. Toxic positivity can lead to feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety.
- Resentment: The constant pressure to be positive can lead to resentment, especially when it is imposed on someone by another person or society as a whole. This can also spring up when you feel invalidated when expressing negative emotions or feel you’re not allowed to complain or vent.
- Burnout: Forcing oneself to be too optimistic for too long can eventually lead to feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and unable to cope with everyday life. This is known as burnout – a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion from prolonged stress or intense effort. This is why taking the time to process our difficult emotions and learn healthier coping methods is crucial.
- Lack of Growth: There is always something to be learned from difficult experiences. But if toxic positivity causes a person to deny or disallow themselves to experience and process their emotions, they may be unable to grow and gain insights from these situations. It prevents people from seeking help. Toxic positivity can also deter seeking professional help for mental health issues, as it implies that there is nothing wrong with the person and they should just get a move on with life. This kind of thinking not only keeps them from getting the help they need but also increases their risk of developing more serious issues in the future.
How to Manage Toxic Positivity
The best way to manage toxic positivity is to be mindful of our thoughts and feelings. It is vital to take the time to recognize, process, and accept negative emotions to move forward with life in a healthy manner.
- Acknowledge your feelings and give yourself permission to feel them without judgment.
- Listen to your inner voice and recognize what it is trying to tell you.
- Take the time to explore your emotions without pressuring yourself to be positive or appear strong.
- Talk about how you feel with people who can provide support and validation.
- Practice self-care rituals. This could be yoga, meditation, journaling, or anything else to help you focus on yourself and work through your emotions.
- Seek professional help if needed.
Toxic positivity defeats the very purpose of us being human. Remember, the beauty of life is that it’s filled with a range of emotions – both positive and negative. You are not a robot. You are allowed to feel, so make the most of it, and don’t be afraid to embrace the hard times along with the good ones.