Okay, I know what you may be thinking.. how can positivity be toxic?
Maybe you've never even heard of the term "toxic positivity" but stick with me because once I start explaining, I think you'll be able to think of someone in your life (maybe even you, no judgement) that has exhibited toxic positivity. Before we start this blog I want you to know, if you start to realize that maybe you have been the person that displays some toxically positive traits, I want you to know... That is OK. We have all been this person at some point or another. Maybe intentionally or unintentionally. My hope is that we help someone discover the difference between being a healthy positive person and toxic positive person and to be able to provide you with some insight and ways you can change that behaviour, either in yourself or in someone you know.
Have you ever tried to force yourself to be positive when you are feeling the opposite? Or maybe you have encouraged someone to "see the bright side" when they're feeling down. That is what is considered "toxic positivity." Yes, being able to see the bright side of things in life has a huge impact on how you live day to day and it can be positive. However, a stipulation to that is when positive thinking is a distraction from your true feelings and emotions.
I'm sure you've heard the saying "Good Vibes Only" well, we like to replace that with "Real Vibes Only" because encouraging someone to see only the good in situations and ignore their true feelings is not ok.
What is Toxic Positivity?
Toxic Positivity is being positive at all costs. It is a mindset that even when you are faced with something difficult, you should always have a positive attitude. Toxic positivity lacks compassion and can ultimately shutdown opportunities for connection. It can exist in your own self talk as well as when talking to others.
Signs of Toxic Positivity:
- Encouraging people to always be happy and positive
- Saying things like "You should look for the good"
- Looking down on people who are having bad days
- Avoiding how you feel in the guise of positivity
- Denying all emotions except "positive vibes"
- Trying to hide your real emotions with fake happiness
Humans feel a wide range of emotions and each one is a vital part of our well-being. Each emotion is our bodies way of alerting us to something. Anxiety, for example is our bodies way of alerting us to a dangerous situation. While sadness may signal the intensity of a loss and by not acknowledging these emotions we end up ignoring the action they inspire. In addition, failing to talk about them will not make them go away.
Here are four tips to avoid toxic positivity:
- Recognize your negative emotions as a normal human experience
- Identify and name your emotions instead of ignoring them
- Talk with trusted people about your emotions
- Seek support from non-judgmental people
Now let's talk HEALTHY POSITIVITY!
This can include intense positive emotions but more often includes subtle feelings like open-mindedness, empathy, optimism, kindness and a belief in others. The main factor here is that healthy positivity isn't always 100% positive. You can be positive but also let yourself have bad days or difficult moments. The point is that you RESPOND to life's woes instead of trying to control them.
So what is Healthy Positivity?
We can all face problems in our lives and cultivating a positive outlook on them doesn't mean ignoring or denying them. The best thing that we can do is notice our problems and allow ourselves to feel our emotions, good or bad. A person who exhibits healthy positivity is willing to acknowledge and discuss problems and feel all of their feelings.
How to practice Healthy Positivity:
Being positive in a healthy way can be as simple as having compassion and empathy for yourself and others. Understanding that negative feelings are a normal part of life and you shouldn't ignore or repress them. Allow yourself to feel negative emotions and then develop habits to slowly train your brain to turn a negative into a positive.
Now, maybe after you read this you are thinking "Oh damn, I didn't realize I am being toxically positive" and that's ok. A lot of the time we are just trying to help and we don't realize what we say to others or think to ourselves can be truly damaging or toxic. So here are 4 things you can work on saying(or thinking):
Instead of saying: "Just keep smiling!"
Try saying: "It's ok to be upset and cry, it only makes me more human."
Instead of saying: "Everything happens for a reason."
Try saying: "It's ok to feel bad sometimes, how can I help?"
Instead of saying: "Failure is not an option."
Try saying: "Failure is part of growth."
Instead of saying: "It could be worse."
Try saying: "Sometimes we experience bad things, how can I support you through this?"
Instead of saying: "Always look at the bright side of life."
Try saying: "It can be difficult to see the good in this situation, but we'll make sense of it when we can."
In summary, what we are trying to tell you is - it's OK to feel all of your feels. Human beings are complicated, emotions are complicated and you are not always going to have a good day and that's OK. Even when you are in your feels, you can still be the light in someone's life without being that toxic positive person pretending that everything is ok when you know damn well it isn't.