• Katrina Down

Toxic positivity

So before I start this one, I have a slight disclaimer alert! I am all about the positive vibes and I think orphan Annie was right when she sang "you're never fully dressed without a smile" HOWEVER there are some times that positivity is really detrimental to our health & well being and can actually contribute to the very pain that we are trying to relinquish. Let me explain...

It isn't real, sustainable or natural to ALWAYS be positive

Toxic positivity invokes a belief that we must remain positive at all times and only focus on a sunny way of being, renouncing any negative thoughts and feelings. This is often accompanied with driving messages such as to be happy or to be strong.

The problem is life is not always happy/good/easy. It can be hard, crappy and difficult. Denying this or blanketing it with false positivity, denies us the full and honest experience. With this denial the very emotion we were looking to avoid becomes greater as it remains unprocessed. Imagine a toddler tugging at your trouser leg wanting your attention. Emotions are often like that! The more we ignore them the bigger the need for attention, until a point is reached, where emotional regulation is no longer sustainable. In the toddler it may manifest as a tantrum, with the adult emotion it can be anxiety, depression or physical illness.

Mark Manson, the author of the book "the subtle art of not giving a f*ck said it best:

"Any attempt to escape the negative, to avoid it or quash it or silence it, only backfires. The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of struggle is a struggle. The denial of failure is a failure. Hiding what is shameful is itself a form of shame".

Therefore any movement away from acknowledging and processing the true depth of any experience, will only exacerbate and heighten our emotional responses, create denial and invalidate ourselves and the authenticity of that experience. Eventually we will learn to switch off our emotional responses, leading to repressed emotions ill health and an inablilty to be authentic which creates difficulties in how we relate to others, how others relate to us and how we relate to and treat ourselves.

What are the signs of toxic positivity?

  • Hiding genuine feelings, with a “getting on with it” attitude or being dismissive of emotions.

  • Feeling guilty for experiencing emotions.

  • Invalidating the experiences of others with “feel good” quotes or statements.

  • Minimising things that are on your mind, with “It is what it is”

  • reprimanding others for not being positive. Thus discounting them on a humanistic and individualistic basis.

Shame and isolation

Remaining quiet about the things that truly effect us creates a form of shame. Many fear being seen a annoying or bad for not being the eternal optimist, so we put the "show on the road" and pin on the smile. In these moments of silence, secrecy and perceived judgement, we impact our already emotional state with messages about "who we are" and cast ourselves into shame. This makes us feel isolated and sometimes unable to connect with others or ourselves.

What is the antidote?

Its important to know who you can go to, to let steam out of the kettle. You may find that these are often people who are also congruent with their emotions. If you feel that those around you influence your reactions with toxic positivity and inhibit you from being able to express yourself, ensure you set yourself some healthy boundaries and do not allow their incapability to experience things holistically cast judgement or shame on you.

Life is full of balance and Pollyannaism has its place, so as much as embracing gratitude and good times is beneficial, so is learning to deal with unpleasant and complex emotions. Give them space to be felt and heard, then move forward.

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