“It’s not a big deal”, “Others have it worse than me so I should be grateful” or “I should be happy” Do you find yourself saying these words often, be it to yourself or to others? Toxic positivity can be defined as, “the belief that no matter how dire or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset.” Although a mindset of such a kind appears seemingly beneficial, the reality can be far from so.
Positivity can be harmful when it minimizes how you truly feel, and when it is exaggerated and hollow. In such cases, it is often toxic and does more harm than good. At times, such a mindset may be a coping mechanism.
The last two years have been difficult for most of us as we grappled with the pandemic. It was a time of loss, whether it was of loved ones, jobs or our previous lives. As we slowly move past the pandemic, it is inevitable that we experience a range of emotions. These changes can be, no doubt, overwhelming. However, more often than not we’re bombarded with books, podcasts and quotes such as “look at the bright side.”
According to psychotherapist Carolyn Karoll, “The pressure to appear ‘OK’ invalidates the range of emotions we all experience”
Toxic positivity can look like this:
– Minimizing your problems.
– Shaming others if they do not have a positive mindset.
– Feeling as though you “should” be happy.
– Judging yourself or feeling guilty for experiencing negative emotions.
– Hiding your true emotions behind a facade of happiness or positivity.
– Trying to “get over” difficult or painful emotions and feelings.
So how do we deal with toxic positivity? Firstly, remember it is okay to feel your feelings. All of our emotions, no matter how difficult or painful, are valid and important. Feel your feelings instead of ignoring or minimizing them. It’s okay to feel sad, disappointed, angry, guilty or any other “negative” emotion. Do not set unrealistic expectations about being happy all the time. Validate other people’s feelings. The next time your friend tells you they are upset, lend them a listening ear and validate their feelings. Instead of taking a good-vibes-only approach, you might say, “I know you are going through a difficult time, I’m here for you.”
Toxic positivity may not always be easy to recognize in ourselves or in others. It can take effort and practice to change the way we relate to our emotions, ourselves and those others around us. However, in the long run, letting go of such a mindset allows us to be authentic and genuine.
The bottom line: Life can be messy and painful. Remember, that it is okay to not be okay.
– Urveez Kakalia & Niharika Bhatia.