Can positivity get toxic, really?
Positivity is great and all but toxic positivity ignores the fact that a person is suffering. It is saying “be positive, be grateful, other people have it worse” when someone is in pain. It says to pretend to be okay when someone clearly isn’t. It masks the problem.
You’ll get over it!
Look on the bright side!
It could be worse!
Everything happens for a reason!
Just keep smiling!
Stop being so negative!
These are some examples, out of many, of toxic positivity. And I’m sure you have used one of these phrases, or something like it, before. I for sure have. Saying it to yourself might help to cheer you up but saying it to another person can be harmful. It can even be harmful to you if you’re burying your problem. An analogy I used to explain this was like taking painkillers for a malignant tumour that’s causing pain without actually dealing with the tumour; it’s only going to get worse.
I have been at fault of toxic positivity multiple times, like many people, maybe even on this blog, because as a society, we don’t address mental health well. We weren’t really taught how to encounter mental health issues in a proper way and we’re told be happy, be positive constantly. But it needs to stop.
I either read about this or heard it in a podcast, but I came to understand negative emotions aren’t bad. Anger isn’t bad. Envy isn’t bad. Sadness isn’t bad. We divide emotions up into good and bad; happiness is good, sadness is bad; we’re taught to suppress and avoid the bad ones. But we have the ability to experience these emotions for a reason! They’re not there for no reason! Toxic positivity sees these emotions as bad. In fact, personally, I believe no emotion is bad at all. We need to embrace them and channel them in a healthy way. A clinical psychologist, Dr Jaime Zuckerman, says, “Avoidance or suppression of emotional discomfort leads to increased anxiety, depression, and overall worsening of mental health.”
So how do we be non-toxic positive?
- Address your raw, real emotions. Don’t bury it. Don’t try and find a way to be happy without actually dealing with your anger or frustration or stress or sadness. If you’re feeling stressed about a workload, make a schedule and divide your work up into smaller pieces making it seem less stressful or daunting, for example. Or if you’re feeling sad or angry from a conflict with someone, talk to that person face to face or through text or a letter, etc, whatever you feel comfortable with. Brainstorm a solution to the problem you’re having – the solution could be simple or complex, getting someone to help you might be useful too.
- Find a way to cope with it inside of faking a smile and saying “be positive”! This could be through:
-Listening to music
-Channelling through art (painting, writing, playing an instrument, etc)
-Meditating, yoga and breathing exercises (the one to the right has helped me before)
-Vent in a journal
-Dance it out! Or even just do a workout
-Go outside on a walk or somewhere nice and calm
-Watch a film in which you can relate to so you don’t feel alone or find comfort
-Talk to someone about how you’re feeling
- Don’t shame other people’s negative emotions. Everybody experiences emotions like anger, stress, sadness, frustration, etc; it’s a very normal thing. We shouldn’t look down on people experiencing these emotions and judging them or shaming them will only make it worse for them! Instead, change your perspective on emotions and understand that it’s a normal human reaction and behaviour, helping us to tackle our everyday lives and problems.
- Step away from social media. Social media is a breeding ground for toxic positivity where it’s spread by people, who aren’t really aware that it is toxic. Taking a break from it could be beneficial to you and make you feel a bit free and more in control of your emotions instead of being fed quotes and posts that won’t help you.
- Spread awareness about toxic-positivity! Point out toxic positivity to people and correct them for it. I’ve put a table of correct things to say in place of toxic positivity below to make it clearer what is right and wrong. Non-toxic positivity accepts a person’s emotions and suffering instead of just trying to move past it and ignoring it.
I hope this helped to make you familiar with what toxic positivity is and why it is bad.