“Good vibes” are nice and all… until they aren’t. Have you ever been in a situation where you were describing a hard day and the person you were venting to said something like “it’ll get better”, or “look on the bright side…” Did you blood start boiling and an urge to flip a table cross your mind? You wouldn’t be alone. So why do we do this?
Toxic positivity is the belief that no matter how awful or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset. Sure, this sounds like decent advice, and there may be times when this is feasible, but more often than not it leads to feelings of invalidation or dismissal for the person trying to seek support. Toxic positivity is toxic for many reasons. It creates a destructive pattern of dealing with all normal human emotions, ignores basic human responses, and minimizes any human emotion that’s positive. This sort of response not only send the message that emotions should be suppressed, but it can be incredibly damaging in relationships. It is highly unlikely that others will feel safe being open and expressing their human emotions around you if they are fearful of being dismissed or told that “it’ll all work out.”
Discounting, dismissing, and denying emotions will only lead to psychological distress. Psychological distress can cause a number of things – disturbed sleep patterns, insomnia, digestion issues, stress, substance abuse, and anxiety. Stress in the body manifests in many ways, and suppressing emotions is one sure-fire way to stress yourself out.
Ironically, most people who engage in toxic positivity believe that by doing so it makes them stronger, when in fact the opposite is true. It only makes them weaker, as it limits their ability to even grapple with basic human feelings. It creates an individual who can’t sit with themselves and all of their emotions because they don’t know how to, and because they’re terrified and believe there’s something wrong with them if they do.
sIGNS YOU’RE GUILTY OF TOXIC POSITIVITY:
- You defer back to cliche sayings. Telling people who are upset things like: “look on the bright side” or, “it could be worse”, is often taken as an indication you would like the conversation to end and aren’t interested in hearing more about the distressing situation.
- You ‘one up’. Describing a difficult situation you’re in, or have faced in the past is an example of toxic positivity. When doing this- you are sending the message that the person confiding in you is actually making a bigger deal out of something small, or that their emotions are invalid because others have been through things that are more difficult. This often causes an individual to feel guilt and shame for feeling the way that they do, and that there’s something wrong with them for even getting upset because they feel, deep down, that they have nothing to complain about.
- You avoid emotions by removing responsibility. One of the least comforting things I’ve found is being told in a difficult situation that “everything happens for a reason” or to “keep praying.” While there may be a lesson in the struggle and a bigger plan a play, this sends the message that the human emotions that are being experienced should be ignored or downplayed in the present- which is never helpful.
- You blatantly ignore any negative emotions. When you do this, you’re dismissing, minimizing, and suppressing normal feelings in favor of “positivity.” You’re hiding your true feelings by doing this.
- You feel guilty and ashamed for feeling the way that you do. You feel weak or like there’s something wrong with you for feeling anything but happy because it’s been branded in your mind that you can’t make a mountain out of a molehill, that things could be worse, and you’re not looking on the bright side.
- You brush off your problems. You don’t make things a big deal because you’re convinced everything could be worse and it’s genuinely not that big of a deal. Doing this means you’re not dealing with your emotions.
Once you learn how to deal with all emotions—the good, bad, and the ugly—the doors swing open for growth. Learning to sit with discomfort, listen to the emotions your feeling, and how to validate others will lead to freedom in your own life and strengthening of your relationships. People just want to be heard!