Ever had a tough time and had the world respond with:
Good vibes only! No times for haters! We must keep it moving!
The above are all phrases that we have heard before and were phrases that introduced me to toxic positivity during my student years.
When I went to University, the student world had begun normalising the presence of student mental health and mental illness was a buzzword that was echoed across campuses nationwide and the immediate solution to all mental health problems or form of negative thoughts was to “Stay Positive”.
Stay positive is a one-size-fits-all unmeaningful phrase that sounds a lot easier said than done. Sometimes I look at it and think that maybe we really live in a society that seeks to be offended most of the time – how have we already managed to weaponize the phrase “Stay Positive”?
I will tell you why, its because positivity has an evil twin sibling called Toxic Positivity. It is hard to spot because it sounds and look the same but the key difference is the way in which the positivity is applied.
The definition of toxic positivity is focusing solely on positive aspects to disregards one’s emotions and often making them feel negative usually sparking an unintentional gaslighting effect.
When a person hides away from a feeling, feels guilt towards a behaviour or is not allowed to acknowledge their emotions – it makes the core issue turn into a bigger and long-term problem. This is because there is no opportunity to process and deal with the problem at hand – which is essentially how we as humans operate and grow mentally mature over time.
This is not to say that I am not a massive supporter of positive thinking because positive things (when applied correctly) does the following:
- Makes you feel happier
- Reduces negative self-talk
- Increase morale
- Allow you to be better reflect on your personality
- Has been proven in a variety of experiments to reduce stress
However, positive thinking should never make you or someone else do the following:
- Pretend that everything is okay when it is not
- Minimize a person’s emotions to a positive quote or phrase
- Make people feel guilty for having negative thoughts
- Not acknowledging someone’s full emotional experience
- Wear a game face – when everything really is not okay
Here is what we can do better to ensure that we are not proactively engaging in toxic positivity (especially during such stressful times in 2020!!!)
The first step is to meet the negative emotion with empathy. People should be allowed to have negative thoughts because we are all human and are not programmed to operate at 100% happiness capacity all the time.
Social media sometimes makes us believe that it is important to be happy all the time when it is far from the truth. There is added pressure to display our persona in the best light, which can sometimes lead to keeping up with an inauthentic online personality.
The second step is to understand the reason for your feelings and tackle them. This is often the hardest step because such behaviour requires us to hols a mirror to our full selves and admit our flaws – but remember that the best progress is usually made during your highest levels of discomfort.
The third step is to learn from the experience and think of learning as a journey instead of a destination. There is nothing worse than going through the same problems time and time again – we need to learn so that we can avoid it and if not possible learn how to better react to the issue at hand. This can also be assisted with things such as journaling, counselling, and discussing with other people.
A bonus step is to avoid situations where you can not enjoy being your full self. This often happens at different places or with different people. Some people feel as though they can not be their full selves at work whilst others may have a group of friends that meant that if they had to be their full selves – they would be going against the group norms.
Let me know your thoughts on toxic positivity in the comments below. Is it a big issue or are we making a fuss about nothing?