When positive vibes turn toxic. A deep dive into toxic positivity.
You have probably heard of toxic positivity but not quite sure what it means.
Toxic positivity is an obsession with positive thinking, and no matter how difficult a situation is, people must maintain a positive mindset. It is a way to reject negative emotions and not allowing these emotions to surface, by opting for a cheerful mood, which is often misleading and false. By pretending that we are ‘positive vibes only’, we deny the emotion of feeling our real emotions and not experiencing the human capabilities. In a year of a pandemic, the advice from many is ‘stay positive and optimistic, even though it has been a hard year for all and having negative emotions is ‘bad’. Well, we are here to say that it’s ok to not be happy all the time.
Clinical psychologist Dr Jaime Zuckerman states: “Toxic positivity is a societal assumption that a person, despite their emotional pain or gravity of their situation, should only strive to have a positive outlook.”
This leaves people thinking that it is wrong to have negative feelings and must strive for ultimate happiness.
Signs of toxic positivity
Some signs of toxic positivity include experiencing guilt for feeling sad or angry, ignoring your problems, dismissing other peoples difficult emotions by pushing a positive mood on them, and hiding real emotions. Although it can be helpful to be optimistic and try to think positive, it's important to not push aside your feelings and learn to deal with these difficult situations, to which toxic positivity comes into effect. Another major aspect of toxic positivity during the pandemic is to be productive and stay busy. Staying busy and adding things to do on our to-do list can cause stress and is not good for one's well being.
To have a positive outlook on life is good for your mental health, but the problem is that life isn't always positive and we need to deal with painful emotions and experiences. These emotions are often unpleasant and hard to deal with, but they are still very important and need to be felt and dealt with openly. Toxic positivity strips people of feeling their real emotions and opting for a more jolly attitude, but dismissing these emotions can take a toll on people’s mental health. The world would be a much kinder place if we turned off the toxic positivity and resolved to talk about our emotions – both the good and bad.
Ways to help avoid toxic positivity
Noticing the signs
Toxic positivity can be difficult to spot, but learning to recognize it can help to remove this type of thinking and pressure. It will also help you to provide support when people (and yourself) are going through something that isn’t easy. Start being mindful of phrases which reference toxic positivity and try and veer conversations in a different route or use the ‘mute’ button on Instagram to hide posts that focus on the topic.
Try and be mindful of your words too. In conversations with others, it’s important to not shut down people's feelings by forcing positive emotions on them. Offer them support, and let them know that their feelings are valid and you’re there to listen.
Here are some toxic positivity phrases and words that you can recognise.