“It could be worse!”
"Just be awesome!"
"You'll get over it"
"Just keep moving forward”,
“Good vibes only!”
“Find the silver lining!”
These are some examples of toxic positivity
What is toxic positivity?
We've all heard the "good vibes only" mantras, where people encourage the relentless attitude of optimism. Positivity certainly has its place but is not always appropriate.
Though at the route you may want to encourage others to stay positive to encourage them may be rooted in good intention, it can also be incredibly damaging, as it can invalidate any "bad vibes" that we experience as humans. Relentless positivity can dismiss or minimize feelings of stress, agony or trauma someone may experience.
Why do we hear those phrases so often?
It may feel like the "good vibes only" is augmented through social media; a space where the masses tend to only put their good foot forward and appear to live a filtered, happy life.
We sometimes see this damaging positivity can turn into a way to place guilt on others. The notion of "the universe will give you what you put out" is a way to condition us that we should be yielding positivity or else what comes to you may be negative. i.e., Thinking that someone gets a serious health concern because of a negative mindset; this is an extremely harmful mentality as it places unjustified blame, and this is victim blaming.
Why do we turn to positivity?
Often it is because we feel comfortable in consoling others who are going through difficulties
For others, creating a bubble of positivity is a way to insulate yourself from absorbing the negativity of others. if you are the designated 'carer' in a relationship, it can become overwhelming to be the go-to for people's negativity. Especially if you are empathetic, you can easily become an emotional sponge. In these cases, it makes sense that you protect yourself against feeling like a dumping ground for the emotions of others.
Ensuring that it is a completely mutual and respectful space is important when confiding in someone. We want to be mindful that we are not overwhelming those that we are choosing to share our feels with. Checking in with those individuals before sharing potentially heavy news is a great idea in being thoughtful of their space.
Alternatives to the good vibes only?
If you are in a space where you are using toxic positivity to protect your peace, try placing limits for yourself and what you are willing to engage in with others. If you constantly feel overwhelmed by hearing about the discomfort of others, protect your mental wellbeing and let them know that you are not in a space where you can cope with heavy news. You may worry about being rude or the optics of declining in a tough conversation, but your own wellbeing is just important as theirs.
If you are on the end of experiencing the uncomfortable feelings, it is important to acknowledge that you are indeed experiencing these feelings. For some, you may feel as though it may be easier to shut down and internalize, however this can be extremely isolating. Be sure that you are mindful of those with whom you choose to share your feelings. It is wonderful to be open with those you trust but be mindful of those you share with and be sure to ask if they are willing to engage in this heavy conversation to ensure it is a healthy space for both parties.
I want to console people, but I immediately turn to positivity. How do I handle when someone shares discomfort with me?
Toxic positivity creates an environment of only being willing to accept positivity and rejecting the suffering of others. It can push people away as it creates an environment where people may not feel comfortable in sharing heavy feelings with you. Encourage your loved ones that you are there should you feel open and ready for it. If you feel as though you are in a space to support this person, listen and be present with that individual. You do not have to rush to find something to say. You can sit in silence and validate that they are going through a difficult time. many times, nothing needs to be said and your presence is enough to comfort someone. Remember, people usually are not looking for problem solving when they want to talk about difficult situations.
Can't it be positive to centre yourself by reminding someone that things could always be worse?
For some, it can be almost a grounding technique to view things with the perspective that though things are bad, at least they are not horrific. This type of mindset is true at all times; there is always going to be someone who worse and there would always be someone who has it better. Feelings are relative and are still entitled to feeling sadness despite that others may have it worse! Comparing your heavy feelings to another person's struggles can add a level of guilt and invalidate your own pain.
I do not want my loved ones to be depressed; I feel like injecting positivity can be helpful in difficult conversations
Toxic positivity is not rooted in meaning to hurt someone who is sharing their pain with us. It is a form of opposite action, where we try to comfort suffering from contentment. However, as mentioned it can be very invalidating and creates a shield between you and your loved one. It is important to remember that experiencing sadness is not synonymous with being depressed. It is perfectly normal to feel bad when you are experiencing trying times. Yes, it could be worse and yes, things will probably get better, but it is so normal to experience an array of emotions, including those that are distressing!
Life is not a fairytale. It is okay to experience all types of feelings. It is okay to have difficult conversations. Finding the silver linings in uncomfortable situations can be a kneejerk reaction, but it can be damaging to minimize and can teach others that uncomfortable feelings are not worth expressing. We underestimate the value of sitting with someone in times of discomfort and simply validate that "this sucks and I am here with you." If you feel like you are not able to handle a tough conversation, it is okay to protect your own well-being and tell someone that you are not equipped to handle it right now.
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