Toxic positivity is a fairly new phenomenon. It has appeared almost directly as a result of the “good life” social media image and the rise of mental health awareness.
In theory, more awareness and concern for mental health is a great thing. We’ve worked so hard to achieve global concern, but has it gone too far now? Are our attempts to cheer up every depressed person and calm every anxious one, actually acts of toxic positivity?
You can’t open apps like Instagram without being bombarded with apparently meaningful positivity quotes which tell you that “Happiness Is A Choice” or “Good Vibes Only”
I’m sure these small statements are posted with good intentions, but they’re naïve. You cannot often cure mental illness with positivity, just as you cannot usually cure a physical illness with a healthy lifestyle.
There are a number of ways to spot toxic positivity.
You might be surprised to learn that you could be dishing it out too. We’re all victims and possible culprits of making our positivity toxic in one way or another.
Minimalizing is a method used to reduce something in its importance. Toxic positivity is often dished out in small flippant quotes and messages, making your real feelings seem unimportant.
Our true emotions and circumstances are completely invalidated when we hear “just think positive”. They’re made to feel small as if what we feel is trivial and can be fixed with some happier thoughts. Boy, do I wish that were true.
When we’re struggling with feeling down or anxious, the last thing we need is a generic feel-good quote. The notion that being positive will make us feel better only undermines how intensely we feel our feelings.
Toxic positivity tells us that our difficulties aren’t, in fact, that difficult at all. Instead of any real help, we’re offered uninvested advice in the form of clichés. I know the people who say these things do mean well, but they’re unlikely to really understand what we’re experiencing if they think optimism will cure it.
Comparing and Contrasting
You can’t be sad, look how good you have it! You shouldn’t be sad, other people’s lives are much worse! These statements are perfect examples of positivity turned toxic, disguised as advice.
This kind of positivity suggests that all emotions and circumstances can be ranked on a scale. It tries to teach us that we all experience our troubles and feelings in exactly the same way.
Toxic positivity leads us to compare how bad one person’s life is to another. This is, of course, unrealistic. No ordeal can be compared to someone else’s because everyone experiences life and their feelings differently.
Toxic positivity is used to try to cheer us up and remove our suffering by telling us “it could be worse”. It doesn’t matter what we’re struggling with, you should never feel like your feelings aren’t valid because they aren’t as bad as someone else’s. We all feel things differently and see the world through different eyes.
While the theory sort of makes sense – sadness over death should be worse than sadness over illness – that’s not how reality works. It’s not up to anyone else tell you how deep your feelings should be, based on a scale that doesn’t exist.
Sometimes positivity becomes so toxic that it is actively anti-negativity. This leads to negativity shaming. Much like any other kind of shaming, it puts people down and excludes them from society because they aren’t bubbly, happy and at ease all the time.
Have you ever found yourself playing the villain in a group of friends who want you to “stop being so negative” when you’re just trying to be honest? It’s a terrible feeling, knowing your natural emotions are being dismissed because it doesn’t fit the vibe.
Some people try so hard to fake their own positive vibes that they refuse to acknowledge anything less than excessive happiness. This kind of positivity is toxic, and you ought to remove these people from your life.
Hiding Your Feelings
When toxic positivity has seeped into your life, you might even find that you’re controlling your own behavior just to fit in. When this happens, we start shoving our own feelings down so we fit in around people who spew positivity like a toxic venom. Fitting in is so important to us that we would rather risk our mental health than be perceived as being negative.
Toxic positivity tells us to compare our problems to those of other people, so we can see that we don’t have it that bad. This means we try to hide our emotions when we think the cause is too small.
It’s okay to feel down, even when the rest of your life is going great. No one should feel like they have to hide their true emotions because society plagues us with this artificial idea of a happy, positive life.
How to Avoid Toxic Positivity
The kind of positivity that’s turned toxic hides in the open, disguised as advice, support, and kindness. If you feel like you’re being dismissed with upbeat quotes and flippant advice about “staying positive” and “everything happens for a reason”, you’re probably right. Steer clear of people who don’t like to access their deeper emotions, because they’re unlikely to respect yours.
When you’re feeling negative, the best course of action is to open up to people who respect the way you feel. You don’t need clichés; you need to be told that it is okay to feel. Anything you feel is justified because those are your own true feelings.
Stand your ground when you know your feelings are real and when you feel that you’re really struggling. If you feel like you’re being dismissed with a fake kind of positivity, make your feelings known. Don’t let anyone get away with invalidating you with their fake happiness, always cheerful, phony-baloney toxic positivity.
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