My grandmother was diagnosed with cancer in her early sixties. When that happened, a few years ago, people flooded me with messages telling me to stay positive. Her life expectancy could be measured in months but what I got were phrases such as “Everything will be ok”. They were well-meaning and I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but upbeat statements weren’t really what I was looking for. Closer, valuable friends just listened and said something along the lines of “That’s crap and I’m sorry”. Upbeat platitudes instead made me feel like my grief was abnormal. They made me feel lonelier. Sometimes sending good vibes is toxic.
We’re still in the midst of a pandemic after a year of suffering and sacrifice, so I get the need to cling to optimism. But a culture of toxic positivity has emerged, one where feelings like sadness, anxiety, and disappointment are never discussed and are viewed as inherently bad. We’ve become accustomed to parroting motivational quotes rather than accepting negative emotions as an integral part of human existence.
Signs of Toxic Positivity
Toxic positivity can be subtle and learning to recognize its signs is crucial to develop a healthier, more supportive approach. Pay attention to these signs:
- You push down sadness, anger, and resentment, replacing them with upbeat optimism that is out of sync with your experience
- You hide or disguise how you really feel, avoiding meaningful conversation on the matter
- You feel guilty about your negative feelings
- You push people to feel upbeat and positive when they express their concerns and their emotions
- You make people feel like they have no right to feel negative feelings. E.g. A friend tells you that she had a bad day at work; “At least you have a job!” shouldn’t be the first thing that comes to your mind.
Why Toxic Positivity Is So Bad
Research has shown that accepting your negative emotions, rather than invalidating them, is beneficial in the long run. There is growing evidence that acceptance keeps you from exacerbating your negative mental experiences. Masking your feelings, instead, will make you feel worse and more fatigued. Toxic positivity is just an unhealthy coping mechanism, often associated with dysfunctional parenting.
How To Avoid Toxic Positivity
The only way to find peace is by connecting with your feelings and showing some compassionate love for yourself. One of the most effective strategies to overcome toxic positivity is journaling. Journaling helps you make sense of your emotions and gain relief. Research has shown that it also helps you reduce stress and helps you solve your problems more effectively. You can also start practicing validation. Learn to listen to, respect, and consider the emotions of other people as well as your own.
It’s definitely possible to replace toxic positivity with healthier ways to deal with negative emotions. You can make the world a much kinder place by accepting the full spectrum of human emotions – good and bad.