Are there times we shouldn’t just think and pray the pain away?
As it turns out, positivity can have toxic traits just the same as negativity can.
Positivity definitely has profound benefits, not just for those around you but your spiritual state overall. Thinking happy thoughts, manifesting peace and goodness, encouraging and uplifting each other rather than criticizing…
It’s a pretty safe ideology, right? Who would condemn positive vibes? What kind of person wants to throw us back to getting our knuckles slapped with rulers and our mothers criticizing a little quarantine weight gain?
We’re talking about the negative effects of toxic, pervasive, unrelenting positivity.
Have you ever had a friend ask you to please respect their positive-vibes-only-space by not discussing unpleasant things in their presence? Or dealt with a coworker whose positive attitude effectively blocked them from receiving bad feedback? Or tried to share a traumatic experience only to be met with empty platitudes a la “everything that’s meant to be will find a way”?
Congratulations – you’ve encountered toxic positivity! It’s all over social media, too – only happy couples, great promotions, dream vacations. Only wins, never losses.
Let’s take a second to unpack what that really means…
Toxic Positivity – How Did We Get Here?
Unless you live in the upper echelons of society, shrouded from suffering by layers of privilege, your life likely includes stress, strife, and strain. You can’t help it.
No one can. That’s the duality of humanity – no light without darkness, no pleasure without pain… you get the message.
Toxic positivity is often borne of good intentions. It seeks to flood and drown the din and chaos of bad tidings with an even blanket of warm fuzzies.
It’s not an entirely misguided idea – plenty of studies show that merely affecting a better attitude and believing in yourself and your vision can, in a sense, affect the change you want to see.
In other words, simply being positive can invoke positive events and feelings.
That much is true.
And as the societal valuation of kindness, empathy, and compassion rises against the falling stock of brutality, cut-throat competition, and schadenfreude, positivity deserves credit where it’s due.
The votes are in, and humanity has decided: We’d rather be happy.
Instead of bemoaning the futility of our circumstances, we keep gratitude journals. Instead of agreeing with your friend that their skin is looking really dull lately, we’d rather compliment their hair or tell them how impressive the work they do is. Instead of releasing a stream-of-consciousness noir novel of complaints, we try to keep the mood light and everyone feeling fine.
So where does it get toxic?
How to Be Negative in a Good Way
We know the depth and breadth of the human experience must include sadness, anger, grief, frustration, etc.
The truth is, sometimes everything’s not going to be okay.
Herein lies the rub: If no one wants to be a Debbie Downer, and only Positive Patties can sit at the table – where does that leave the collective suffering that binds us together as people?
Toxic positivity may not mean to, but it denies us the opportunity to share and experience life’s pitfalls together in meaningful ways that acknowledge our pain.
- 1. We don’t always say, to ourselves or others, how we really feel. That can breed resentment, confusion, and lash-outs at inopportune moments. Plus, nothing bad ever gets better if we don’t talk about it!
- 2. Other people’s experiences can feel minimized or misunderstood, which doesn’t bring anyone closer together – it pushes us further apart.
- 3. Dismissing or repressing bad feelings because they have no place in your positivity-exclusive space means you never get to process those feelings. They just ferment in your gut and poison you slowly.
- 4. It can often have the opposite of its intended effect – sharing isn’t always easy, and when the response to a traumatic or difficult lived experience is to think of the bright side or imagine how it could be worse, it can feel like your feelings about your experience aren’t valid.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make everyone feel better, happier, supported, encased in a glowing bubble of light and heat.
It’s simply important to remember that positivity doesn’t belong in every moment.
In plenty of moments, a good old-fashioned “I’m so sorry that happened to you. I’d feel terrible, too,” or “What a monumental bummer,” or “It’s totally reasonable to be sad and angry about this. Take as long as you need” can work wonders.
Keep that positivity in your back pocket, though… you never know when you’ll need it!