Do you ever ask yourself the question? No one is that happy all of the time so how come they are? It’s good to be positive, right? But when does a positive mindset tip over into something that isn’t always good and has a more harmful side to it?
What is Toxic?
Enter ‘Toxic Positivity’, the new buzz word amongst Psychologists on both sides of the pond. There is a growing school of thought that suggests that this relentless brand of positivity can have a harmful side. If we are continually positive this can mean that we can fail to process important emotions like sadness, fear and grief, emotions that ultimately help us to heal.
You may be the type of person who always looks on the bright side, even if you are feeling really sad. Or do you find yourself only sharing the positive parts of your life on Social media? If you are always pretending that everything is always OK, you might find that this isn’t so great for our mental health. If this is left unchecked, some experts warn that toxic positivity may even cause deeper issues, possibly playing a part in things like burnout, anxiety disorders and self-esteem.
What exactly is toxic positivity?
Toxic positivity is going straight to the good stuff, all of those feelings that we all want more of, like happiness and feeling good. It also means bypassing difficult and sometimes, sad emotions, emotions that don’t always make us feel good. The toxic element comes in because these sad feelings are responses to things that are happening around us, so they need to be given space to be felt and hard, plus ultimately these feelings shouldn’t be suppressed. Emotions are all too often classed as either positive or negative, when in reality, it’s not completely healthy to split emotions into good or bad. All emotional states are valuable in our lives and all emotional states have a place in our lives and a function.
Toxic positivity can appear in lots of different ways: it might be a friend who dismisses your feelings and tells you to ‘cheer up’, instead of asking you why you’re upset. Or it could be the times you chastise yourself for having worries or fears, when those fears are completely legitimate.
Either way, it’s that all-too familiar creeping pressure to move past your upset swiftly, and feel better before you’re really emotionally ready to.
Why can toxic positivity be harmful?
For us all to move through paid, we have to feel that pain. Positive thinking can be toxic if someone is forced or pressured into feeling differently when they are not ready to move
When others try to help people to feel positively about their lives they are doing this for a couple of reasons. Whilst positivity does have its place in life, they can be harmful to someone who is dealing with feelings which are appropriate and understandable. For example, if someone has been bereaved they have to be allowed to move through the grieving process at their own pace as they very rarely have much influence over how they feel.
How to manage feelings
Studies have found that hiding our feelings can cause significant psychological distress, and putting a constantly happy spin on life can have a deeper effect on our psyche, damaging our ability to regulate our emotions.
Managing and regulating emotions like fear, is important when ‘negative’ emotions become all too consuming and damaging. However, it’s healthy to process your feelings, whatever those feelings are. Anger and sadness can sometimes be useful too, as they can motivate us to place healthier boundaries in our lives. Anger tells us when our boundaries have been crossed, so if we avoid emotions like anger, we lose the benefit of knowing what’s important to us and where our values lie.
Plus, experts say that feeling pain is extra meaningful, as it can make happy times all the more enjoyable. Pain gives us all perspective, and possibly, a greater ability to see and notice the positive experiences in our lives.
Some experts believe that the focus has shifted too far onto ‘being positive’, and for good mental health in the future, society should shift to coping and managing with all of life’s ups and downs.
Is toxic positivity is on the rise?
In the age of social media, there’s a pressure to only show the good stuff in life, the perfect Instagram life that some of us aspire to. This type of false positivity can quickly lead to comparison culture. If everyone else is seemingly feeling great on your feed, it’s unsurprising that you might feel guilty for having bad days. Comparison culture can make some of us feel that we are doing as well in life as our friends and this can lead to low self worth in some of us. However, it’s important to remember that we’re comparing our internal experience with what we’re seeing of other people’s lives on the internet, which may not be a true representation of their actual lives.
Is positive thinking a choice?
Some of us have a more natural, way of thinking that enables us to find positive meanings in life more easily. In essence, some people find it easier than others to think positively
Adverse early childhood experiences, including emotional deprivation, bullying and excessive criticism can profoundly impact the ability to think more positively as adults. This is because these people become more hardwired to look out for danger, rather than pleasure and joy. Once our minds and bodies feel safe, we can then believe that the world can be a more positive place for us.
How can we overcome toxic positivity?
If you’re guilty of pushing positivity onto other people, then start by taking the time to really just listen to people. If someone has expressed negative feelings, take the time to understand what is going on for them, don’t just brush them aside.
Don’t ignore their negative feelings with toxic positivity, instead help them feel listened to and walk with them for a while. Try to get a sense of what it is like to be in their shoes and how they are really feeling.
All emotions need to be acknowledged, whether they are sad or happy, they all have a place in life. However, if we find ourselves unable to take in positive experience, being overly negative, and in ‘the victim’ position, then this could be the time to seek out professional help. Take care x