Ever tried forcing yourself to be positive when you feel the exact opposite? Or encouraged a friend to see the bright side of life when they’re feeling down? We’re all guilty of it, but the more awareness we have of toxic positivity – the better. I’m always talking about the power of positive thinking and mindset, so I felt the need to dedicate a post to toxic positivity, something I’m seeing more and more recently. Being able to see the bright side of life and stay optimistic has a massive impact on how you live day to day, it’s a huge positive. However, a caveat to that is when positive thinking and ‘positive vibes only’ is used as a distraction from your true feelings and emotions.
it’s ok, and important to feel more difficult emotions
Toxic positivity is simple. It’s using the notion of ‘positive thinking’ to suppress feelings you associate with negativity, and not truly facing how you think and feel. The problem is, if there’s something that’s seriously bothering you and it’s not addressed, it doesn’t just go away. The human experience isn’t just made up of moments that spark joy. By avoiding every emotion except trying to think positive you repress how you really feel which can make it hard to move forward.
Accepting ‘negative’ emotions can feel difficult, but it helps with coping and how intense the emotions feel (there’s actually research behind this!). It’s that feeling of getting something off your chest, and the feeling of relief when you’ve had time to process how you feel. Optimism can be present at the same time as ‘negative’ emotions, so by accepting how you feel you’re not taking steps back, but learning to understand yourself more.
I’ve applied toxic positivity to my own life in the past, thinking I needed to be positive all of the time for a more joyful life. I’d go as far as saying the opposite is true. I was practising emotional avoidance. Healing requires you to experience all of your emotions as they are (as difficult as that is). By forcing positivity, it’s hard to move forward and truly grow.
It’s a pressure you can put on yourself and experience from others. To give you an example, it’s saying things like ‘no excuses’, ‘just think positively’ and ‘you’ll be stronger for it’. Really, on the surface they’re not toxic, but it’s the context of these phrases and why, when and who they are used with. One thing they all have in common is that they can be dismissive of how someone really feels. They are barriers to someone speaking out about their true emotions.
Positivity becomes toxic when it minimises a real problem
Whether you’re chatting with a friend or find yourself forcing positive thoughts, here’s a few things to say instead…
‘all of your feelings are valid’ ‘that sounds really difficult’ ‘this is really hard, I’m here for you’
I don’t know about you, but comparing them to the other statements puts me at ease. They’re more understanding, less judgemental and offer support.
Yes positive thinking and optimism are important, but we’re human, and it’s not realistic or normal to be positive all the time.
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