Positivity is the tendency to stay positive or adopt an optimistic attitude. Being positive has its benefits as it helps one to be hopeful even in dark times. However, too much of anything can prove to be a bad thing. Too much positivity can lead to something known as toxic positivity. Toxic positivity can be thought of as the over-emphasis on seeing everything, even tragic and traumatic events as positive. It denies the existence of negative experiences and often leads to the invalidation of emotions that are considered negative despite them being normal human emotions.
Unfortunately for the people of today, toxic positivity is rampant and often disguised as healthy positivity. Toxic positivity ignores the need to be empathetic or the need to actually experience unpleasant emotions. When we try to always remain positive and ignore any of the negative emotions we feel, that is toxic positivity. This form of toxic positivity is shown toward the self. However, when we think back to the various experiences we have had in our lives, we might remember encountering some people who always advised and sometimes even forced people into thinking more positively. Though they must have done this with good intention, the effect that it has is often the opposite. Where self-imposed toxic positivity is trying to be as happy as humanly possible at all times with no exceptions, toxic positivity by others would be telling someone who suffered a recent miscarriage that they should be happy that they still can have kids. Not only do such things invalidate the experience of the other person, it displays a lack of compassion and could even cause the person to start thinking the same way, bury everything, plaster a smile on their face, but never actually deal with the emotion. These buried emotions can come up later with significantly greater intensity and wreak havoc in the person’s life.
If we consider an abusive relationship, individuals who are toxically positive or have been exposed to it might try to be hopeful, find the positives in the relationship, and ultimately stay thinking of the ‘positives. This only pushes them to stay and further endure the hardships and injuries that come as a part of abusive relationships.
Toxic positivity in a relationship could entail ignoring the need to resolve conflicts through communication, instead of ignoring the conflict and ‘thinking only of the positives. This could potentially lead to the relationship breaking since there is no real communication going on. Individuals who always force themselves to be positive at all times and firmly hold on to the belief that they should be happy at all times may feel guilty when they are unable to feel positive. This may cause them to try harder to be positive, ultimately failing and causing them to feel more desperate and guilty. Whereas a person who pushes through the ‘negative’ emotions might later feel empowered and sure of themselves due to being able to overcome their difficulty and at the same time resolve the undesirable feelings. They learn effective and healthy ways of coping with the issues they have in their lives.
Here are some examples of toxic positive statements:
“Stop thinking about it, just stay positive”.
“Everything happens for a reason”.
“It could be worse. Just think about it, some people have it worse”.
“Stop crying, it won’t help, look at the bright side”.
“Get over it, think only positive thoughts, ignore everything negative”.
“We have limited time on Earth, so stop spending time sulking and feeling bad for yourself and just smile”.
Where toxic positivity hinders growth and causes further trouble as it tells people that experiencing negative events and ‘negative’ emotions are not necessary and emphasize the supposed need to always put a positive spin on such negative aspects in life, as it just encourages individuals to bury their unpleasant emotions rather than deal with them. True positivity is healthy and encourages growth. Toxic positivity is essentially denial of the existence of the problems and does not offer a long term solution. Which is why your friends and family cannot be your therapist. You need experienced professionals well versed in the nuances of each individual's distinctive needs without invalidating their experiences. While being positive is beneficial, experiencing unpleasant and ‘negative’ emotions is also important. Ensure that you give yourselves the time and the space to process such ‘negative’ emotions.
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