“We are so wrapped up in a world of staying positive, that we are ashamed of actually feeling anything else”This is the first time I am collaborating with my friend for a blog. It started out when he first told me about his own experience in life and that he has come up with this idea of reaching out to people through writing a blog on this topic. I loved the idea immediately. Here we are today, presenting you this blog that is close to our heart and an important issue that needed to be addressed.
By Dhara Tandon and Rohan Sharma
Toxic positivity is an obsession with positive thinking. It is the belief that people should put a positive spin on all experiences, even those that are profoundly tragic. It is a belief that no matter how dire or difficult the situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset. It’s a “good vibes only” approach to life.
Toxic positivity imposes positive thinking as the only solution to problems, demanding that a person avoid negative thinking or expressing negative emotions.
The research around positive thinking generally focuses on the benefits of having an optimistic outlook when experiencing a problem. Toxic positivity, by contrast, demands positivity from people regardless of the challenges that they face, potentially silencing their emotions and deterring them from seeking social support.
Trust me, positivity feels great. Even I believe in finding the silver lining even in the worst situations and looking at the brighter side of life. But does that make the dark side disappear?
Can avoiding the darker side of life bring a lot more darkness? Is there such a thing as too much positivity?
There are a lot of things in life, simple and little things, that can make us feel positive and happy. From a good book and warm cup of coffee to spending time with your friends and even getting a good sleep on a Sunday morning. Positive vibes and energy make us feel better about ourselves and help us navigate through the ups and downs.
But when you focus on “Good vibes only” and “No drama”, then ironically it can lead to negative vibes and a lot of drama. Happiness is a great thing to pursue, but when you try too hard, it can become pretty harmful.
Artificial positivity does not allow you to feel and express your pain and suffering which creates a lot of mental pressure and positive thinking does not exist in a vacuum, and it is certainly not a panacea for all of life’s challenges.
When Positivity Turns Dark?
“There are two ways of spreading light: to be a candle, or the mirror that reflects it.”
– Edith Wharton
We have all seen those cringy “not here for negativity” and “positive vibes only” posts on Instagram. It can certainly be motivational to some extent and help people develop a much needed positive mindset. But fake positivity can limit us from experiencing our wide range of emotions – good, bad and ugly. What we need to realize is that positive thinking doesn’t necessarily lead to action. It is only by truly acknowledging our real emotions, whether happiness or depression, we can grow, evolve, and experience happiness as it is meant to be.
Imagine what telling a person with clinical depression to look at only positive things in life and ignore all the feelings of sadness, anxiety and depression can do to him. It can make him feel that as he is unable to feel naturally happy, that there is something wrong with him. He will start feeling ashamed and blame himself for struggling with depression. He will become more withdrawn and isolated and fall into further depression.
Now imagine the same person acknowledging all his emotions, reflecting on them, and being turned in to the true experiences of being a human. Once he realizes what emotions he is going through, he will be better able to seek help, go for therapy and rebuild his life. Understanding all your emotions and thoughts makes you self-aware which leads to self-development practices and habits.
When you pretend to have “good vibes only”, you are denying yourself the authentic human experience. The unprocessed emotions that you deny to feel keep getting bigger as you look the other way. But the problem is this process is unsustainable. Sooner or later, you will crack and experience a rush of controllable, unpleasant emotions.
Identifying toxic positivity
“Everything is toxic. That’s the point. You can’t avoid toxins. Thinking you can is just another symptom of the toxic overload stage.”
– Jane Smiley
If you are wondering if you have toxic positivity, then here are some experiences and expressions that will help you recognize it in your daily life :
- Ignoring or hiding your real feelings
- Feeling ashamed or guilty for the emotions you truly feel
- Forcing yourself to move ahead by dismissing specific feelings
- Encouraging others to be positive and playing down their actual experiences
- Telling others that their situation could be worse, instead of validating their feelings
- Criticizing or shaming others for feeling sad, frustrated or other negative emotions
- Not leaving any space to acknowledge or experience pain
- Having a fake-it-till-you-make-it attitude
- Avoiding feelings that may affect and bother your mental and emotional well-being
Why toxic positivity is bad for you?
If you are still in doubt about the toxic effects of overestimating positivity, then here are some prominent reason why toxic positivity is harmful for you :
It makes us feel shame
Shame and guilt are undoubtedly unpleasant feelings and can be significantly paralyzing to our mental and emotional health. Forcing yourself to be positive makes you hold on to your uncomfortable feelings and stay silent about what you’re struggling with internally. None of us want to look weak, so we pretend that our life is going perfectly fine. We act like we are okay even though in reality we are not.
When we deny and hide our emotions, it leads to a crippling sense of shame and guilt. Shame feeds on secrecy. This in turn makes us feel even more weak and affects our mental and emotional well-being further.
It suppresses our true feelings
Studies have found that denying or hiding our emotions can result in additional stress and anxiety. It can make it even more difficult for us to avoid unpleasant thoughts and distressing emotions. Psychological studies have revealed that suppression drastically reduced expressive behavior in both pleasing and uncomfortable situations. Thus avoiding your real emotions and suppressing thoughts and emotions affects our quality of life and how we express ourselves in different circumstances.
The fact is expressing a wide range of emotions and showing how we feel through words and expressions enables us to better manage our stress response. It helps us remain sane, mentally healthy and release stress and anxiety caused by suppressing emotions.
It makes us isolated and unapproachable
As we start denying ourselves of our true emotions, we become unauthentic and artificial with ourselves and others around us. We lose the sense of who we are and our relationships with our inner selves become strained. As we portray a different version of ourselves to the world, people become disconnected with us. We become unrelatable to others as we desperately try to appear perfect socially. The truth is no one is perfect.
When we portray a false image of being positive and perfect, we become unapproachable to others. We unintentionally isolate ourselves from our friends and family and even ourselves. This affects our relationships and connections as people think they only have to be positive and happy around us. In the real world, none of us are happy all the time. By creating a fake persona of toxic positivity, we push our loved ones away from us and attract fake and superficial relationships.
Here’s how to overcome toxic positivity
“Things don’t go wrong and break your heart so you can become bitter and give up. They happen to break you down and build you up so you can be all that you were intended to be.”
– Charles Jones
Whether you are spreading or receiving toxic positivity, the first step to get out of the toxicity is awareness. When you recognize you are participating in fake positive thinking, you can start to overcome it by acknowledging the truth. Accepting your true emotions and reflecting on your real thoughts will enable you to respond consciously, cope with difficult emotions honestly, build mental resilience and lead to a long term happiness.
When you recognize and accept your reality clearly and understand that it is okay to feel sad, you can finally start experiencing the complete human experience.
Some strategies for avoiding self-imposed toxic positivity include:
- Recognizing negative emotions as normal and an important part of the human experience
- Identifying and naming emotions rather than trying to avoid them
- Talking with trusted people about emotions, including negative feelings
- Seeking support from nonjudgmental people, such as trusted friends or a therapist
A person can avoid imposing toxic positivity on others by:
- Encouraging people to speak openly about their emotions
- Getting more comfortable with negative emotions
- Avoiding trying to have a positive response to everything a person says
- Recognizing that intense negative emotions often coincide with powerful positive emotions, such as when profound grief signals intense love
A Take-Home Message
Positivity can be mind altering.
But delivering positivity disingenuously or during unsuitable times can cause toxic positivity.
Being a healthy human being involves being conscious of ourselves and how we show up in the world. If you recognize yourself as a transmitter of toxic positivity, it’s time to cut it out. You’re hurting yourself and the people you care about most by insisting on this monochromatic mindset. Instead of practicing toxic positivity, aim for balance and the acceptance of both good and bad emotions rather than all-or-nothing thinking.
If you’re being influenced by toxic positivity, we encourage you to set healthy boundaries with anyone who passes judgment on your authentic experience and speak your truth.
Positivity isn’t bad.
It is only harmful if it is disingenuously encouraged and when it dismisses other emotions. Thinking positively and encouraging positive vibes has its time and place; however, perhaps we should consider modifying the mantra “good vibes only” to “any vibe accepted” when listening to others and considering our own emotions.
As humans, we want to share all our emotions with our loved ones. We want to talk about our difficult emotions without worrying about being judged or feeling guilty. When you look at only the brighter side of life and fail to acknowledge what you are actually feeling, it is a toxic recipe for disaster. It is crucial that we look at all our emotions and validate our feelings. We need to tell ourselves – it’s okay to not be okay.
So before uttering another hakuna matata, consider the consequences and apply compassion and empathy instead. We get one chance at this beautiful, painful, imperfect life…embrace it entirely and you’ll reap the rewards of bountiful aliveness.
It can be life altering.
5 Interesting Books on the Topic
1. Toxic Positivity – Theo Tucker
In the foreword, Tucker commands the reader’s attention when describing a situation when toxic positivity could have cost someone their life.
The author recounts a time when he was headed to conduct a Bible study at church. He approached a gentleman who was visibly upset after ending a call on a payphone. He asked the man if he was okay, and the man responded, “No.”
Tucker could have thrown out an empty positive phrase to diffuse the scene; however, what he did next may very well have saved the man’s life. Tucker elicited the help of a nearby elder.
This elder was able to talk to the gentleman and found that he planned to take his life in the parking lot. Things could have ended very differently had toxic positivity been used. Tucker analyzes five seemingly harmless phrases and explains what makes them toxic, offering suggestions for what to say instead.
Find the book on Amazon.
2. Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America – Barbara Ehrenreich
Positive phrases do not pay the mortgage, nor do they cure cancer. Author Barbara Ehrenreich describes toxic positivity as a “reckless optimism” when she was confronted with optimistic statements following her diagnosis with breast cancer.
She explains that it is important to prepare ourselves for life’s challenges, and the ever-cheerful outlook that seems to be taking over America cannot accomplish this. Ehrenreich begs for a change in this cultural attitude.
Find the book on Amazon.
3. Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change and Thrive in Work and Life – Susan David
Dr. Susan David introduces emotional agility as what differentiates people who master challenges from people who are thwarted by them.
Dr. David’s life work of studying emotions, happiness, and achievement led her to developing the idea of emotional agility. She defines emotional agility as accepting difficult emotions, making slight changes, and adapting to the presented challenge.
This book explains the importance of experiencing negative emotions and how to turn those experiences into success.
Find the book on Amazon.
4. Manage My Emotions: What I Wish I’d Learned in School About Anger, Fear and Love – Kenneth Martz
This four-part book not only acknowledges both positive and negative emotions, it also helps readers understand their emotions, leading to a purpose-driven life based on true emotional needs.
Additionally, Dr. Kenneth Martz provides effective self-assessment exercises that support the reader in developing the ability to control emotions and limit the effect of ‘less comfortable emotions.’
These include 8 powerful ways to conquer fear, 14 thoughtful tools to manage anger, and 12 simple exercises to quiet one’s worry.
This book gives an excellent insight into understanding emotions, which is helpful in combating toxic positivity.
Find the book on Amazon.
5. Be Positive: Fuck Toxic Positivity – Briah Fleming
Pardon the language of the title; however, this book provides daily affirmations that encourage the reader to create peace and happiness in the way they think, speak, and act, all the while discouraging the “good vibes only” catchphrase.
The affirmations were created to be read, meditated on, and lived by. These mantras are intended to replace the use of toxic positivity.
Find the book on Amazon.