We can all agree that 2020 was the most challenging year for many of us. In the midst of a global pandemic, having to deal with loss, isolation, and much more, many have found it incredibly challenging to maintain a positive mindset, almost pressurizing themselves into it.
Though being positive is well claimed to help manage stress and induce productivity, sometimes excessive optimism can end up being counterproductive. This has been quite evident in the past year. Many people have resorted to what we commonly call an ‘it is what it is’ attitude while actively avoiding the onslaught of negative events. However, what we don’t realize is that we are enforcing toxic positivity upon ourselves and those around us.
Toxic positivity results from the belief that one must, at all times, have a positive approach to life, no matter what the miseries one goes through are. It involves the denial of negative emotions and events, often invalidating our own or others’ experiences and efforts.
This unhealthy disposition appears in the form of overused platitudes such as “Everything happens for a reason!”, “It could have been worse!”, “At least such-and-such a thing did not happen to you!”, etc. These remarks, though well-intended, not only invalidate what one may be going through but also implant a feeling of shame, guilt, and judgment in them for feeling the way that they do.
Toxic positivity fails to acknowledge one’s struggles, dismissing the problem as insignificant. This could cause one to suppress their emotions and develop low self-esteem and a lack of self-compassion. It also pressurizes people to exceed themselves in terms of productivity and creativity.
Toxic positivity keeps us from healing and learning from the rough patches of life.
Words like “Don’t be sad, just be happy!” are also toxic as negative emotions aren’t a choice and need to be acknowledged, understood, and overcome to feel a sense of comfort. Though discomfort is undesirable, it is crucial to growth. Thus toxic positivity keeps us from healing and learning from the rough patches of life.
Should this pseudo-optimistic approach be enforced early on, it could prevent one from perceiving the graveness of a dire situation. Such individuals have a hard time processing and tiding through their sorrows and troubles and are very likely to develop reckless means of coping such as denial and increased substance use.
This phenomenon is also guilty of painting an unattainable state of mind, where one always has things in control and isn’t deterred by external factors. However, reality paints a whole different picture. Toxic positivity by creating an emotional barrier prevents one from experiencing the spectrum of genuine emotions that make us human and give meaning to our life.
Further, the struggle to stay constantly positive, frequently adds to one’s stress. It causes one to burn out by adding unnecessary pressure and has the potential to pave ways for low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, etc., worsening one’s mental health. This has been quite evident during quarantine, where people were often urged through social media to take advantage of the pandemic either by learning a new skill, losing weight, picking up a new hobby, etc. Though these were aimed to better ourselves, we must realize that not everyone could afford the privilege mentally, physically, and financially during a global crisis.
Toxic positivity severely affects your relationship with others. When you tend to cut off people’s negativity, it sends them signals that you do not tolerate anything apart from ‘positive vibes’. It will keep them from being their true authentic self around you and also hinder you from forming intimate bonds with them.
Instead of dealing with their negativity by chanting empty platitudes that seem like emotional full stops, it would be more rewarding to lend an ear. Sometimes people require an empathetic listener rather than an advisor.
Another means of overcoming toxic positivity would be by taking the time to process your own emotions rather than suppressing them. You can make better sense of your emotions and process them better even by talking to someone. And if you don’t feel comfortable enough to share something personal with anyone, journaling or voice recording yourself to analyze your emotions would also have a therapeutic effect.
It would also do a world of good by reducing contact with people or social media pages that promote the idea of constantly being productive and positive. Though toxic positivity may seem like a very tricky trait to identify in ourselves and others, when done, it shifts our focus on being more human and kind to ourselves and our surroundings.