Toxic Positivity: why your “love and light” might be BS.


strong and resilient black woman

A failed test, a job loss, a heartbreak, or an unlucky day – If you’ve experienced one (or all) of these at least once in your life, you’ve probably heard the following phrases:

“Stay positive.”
“Suck it up.”
“What happened to me was worse.”
“Just smile!”
“It will be gone in the morning.”

We don’t know about you, but just hearing these words makes our blood boil.

As we continue to live in the digital age, it seems like being upbeat and unabashed about everything is what’s most important. For this exact reason, the mute button on Instagram has been so popular among its users – admittedly, including us.

While statements like this may help some people, being excessively positive can definitely do more harm than good for others.

This, my friend, is where the term Toxic Positivity comes in – the concept of being in an unattainable, ineffective, and generalized optimistic state despite unfavorable circumstances.

Huh? What’s wrong with that? Isn’t a daily dose of good vibes exactly what we need right now, considering everything that has been happening in the world?

We hate to break it to you, but no! Okay, we’re not a bunch of negative nancies who are anti-positivity – not at all! In fact, we’re all about supporting each other and lifting each other’s spirits – up to a certain extent and only if it can help them.

Kind of confusing, huh? Don’t worry, we’ll walk you through it. 

Here are 5 reasons why your “love and light” might be BS:

1. Positivity has a dark side

Yes, you read that right. We usually associate positivity with all things bright and beautiful, but it does have a dark side, too.

Whenever we are faced with problems, our initial solution is to “brush it off”. That way, it can wear off and we’ll be back to normal, right? Wrong. Don’t take our word for it. Several psychological studies found that avoiding one’s feelings causes more stress on the body.

Instead of making you forget about your problems, they pile up until you can’t take it anymore, and your body is forced to absorb everything in one big blow. Another study found that accepting unpleasant emotions can help defuse them and cause better overall psychological health.

In short, denying negative emotions makes them escalate into something much bigger than they originally were.

2. You might be invalidating other people’s emotions

Have you ever confided in a friend in the middle of the night and end up regretting it because maybe “you’re just being so negative”?

We know we have, and it was not fun. One of the worst things we could experience is having our feelings invalidated.

If you’ve given pieces of advice such as “Everyone goes through that”, “Just think positively”, and “It will all be okay”, you may mean well and want what’s best for your friend – but maybe you’re not using the best approach. Whether you realize it or not, you may be doing just the opposite of what you intended to do – (unintentionally) disregarding your friend’s feelings altogether. There is a fine line between support and toxic positivity.

3. You may need a little refresher course on empathy

This is more so for those who like to display toxic positivity for all the world to see. If things are really going well for you, then congrats! We are sincerely happy for you. However, millions of people in the world are on the opposite side of the wheel – struggling to make ends meet, battling depression, missing opportunities because of the “new normal”, and worse, losing loved ones due to the pandemic.

Calling people “negative” for expressing their emotions is one of the worst things you can ever do to someone. Imagine pouring your heart out, only to come home feeling as though your problems are too “shallow” to dwell on. In your eagerness to show positivity, you’ve achieved just the opposite.

Newsflash: There is no one way to live your life. What may have worked for one problem may wreak havoc on the next. As much as we want to get the perfect formula to live a happy life, unless we can foresee the future, that formula is basically non-existent.

4. Toxic Positivity makes life inauthentic and unattainable

“Better well being should not focus only on being happy, because it denies resilience-building experiences.” NOEL MCDERMOTT, CLINICAL PSYCHOTHERAPIST

As we’ve mentioned earlier, toxic positivity can seem inauthentic and insincere. Not only does it set unrealistically high expectations, but deprives us of dealing with our problems head on.

By choosing to “suck it up” and “let it pass”, you are losing valuable life lessons, like resilience and self-reliance. When you experience failure, you get a better idea of what not to do next time. When you get scared, you liven up your senses and get a better grasp of reality. These are things we need to experience to be stronger and to make wiser decisions in the future.

Being sad, scared, and angry doesn’t make you a negative person – it just makes you human.

5. You can be a victim of your own Toxic Positivity

Toxic Positivity may pose negative effects both on the doer and the receiver of the action.

How, you ask?

You see, being overly positive all the time can be sickening. Your friends may never ask you for advice again if you continue to put up this facade. On the other hand, being on the receiving end is definitely not rainbows and butterflies as well. Apart from your feelings being invalidated, you will always fall short of having a perfect life. “If she can do it, so can I.”

We said it before and we’ll say it again: there is a fine line between healthy positivity and toxic positivity.

How will I know if I’m being toxic?

Generally speaking, when you deny your true feelings or the feelings of others, you know that you are on the fast track to toxicity.

“When we give ourselves permission to hold multiple seemingly conflicting truths in our minds at the same time, we can eliminate the tension between them and give room to all of our emotions—both positive and negative,”JENNY MAENPAA, NEW YORK THERAPIST

We’ve all probably experienced toxic positivity – whether as a doer or as a receiver. The good news is: it’s not too late to veer away from this kind of mentality! When you don’t know how to approach a situation, just remember number three: empathize.

If you were in your friend’s situation, would you want to hear cookie-cutter pieces of advice? Would you have wanted to be called a “pessimist” for verbalizing your emotions and ultimately just seeking help?

Sometimes, just being there is enough. Literally. Just show up when they need you and listen. Other times, you can maybe ask them if they want to get some Starbucks, or a massage at a nearby spa. On the contrary, some people want to listen to different opinions. If that’s the case, you can be honest about your thoughts – but don’t impose anything on them. Remember: even if you’ve experienced something similar, this is about them, not you.

Believe it or not, not every problem requires an immediate solution. Our friends call us because they want someone to listen, not to solve their problems for them (unless, of course, they asked for exactly that).

The takeaway:

Positivity is powerful, but so is resilience.

Life would be so much better if we allow ourselves to feel. It’s time to change out that “Fake it ‘til you make it” wallpaper. Start acknowledging your true feelings. Picking yourself up after taking into account all your emotions is what will make every experience – both good and bad – worthwhile.

Here’s to a healthier and (genuinely) happier you!

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