I felt like it was really important for me to talk about this topic because there are too many people that feel shame and guilt for feeling sad or upset by a situation. Don’t get me wrong. I do think that a positive mindset goes a long way and there is something to be said about getting swallowed up by your own negativity. But that’s not what toxic positivity is. It is the belief that no matter how difficult or upsetting the situation is, that one should continue to have a positive mindset. Come on – you have seen the memes and the hashtags #goodvibesonly #blessed. I have used these myself on IG posts – I am sure of it. But something that I have learned, especially throughout this past year is that life isn’t always positive and when you tell someone to “just be positive” it can be a form of gaslighting.
I didn’t realize this until I was experiencing a toxic work situation at the end of 2020. I had lost my job and was experiencing a form of post-traumatic stress after it had happened. I had a lot of feels about it and to be honest, most people didn’t really know or understand how to offer me support. I was told “everything happens for a reason” and “just be positive” and while I have probably doled out advice like that myself, it didn’t sit well with me. While it appeared to be sympathetic, I felt like I was being shut down about what I was experiencing.
Toxic positivity can be incredibly harmful in a few different ways. As I mentioned before, it’s a form of gaslighting – making someone feel shame or guilt for feeling sad or upset. It can also be seen as an avoidance mechanism. We are all human and we have authentic human emotions that cannot be ignored and lastly it prevents real growth from taking place. We need to cope and deal with difficult emotions in order for us to build resilience and manage them in the future.
I personally needed to sit in my feelings, understand them so I could gain a deeper insight into what happened and how I could it avoid it happening again, or have a better way of managing it if or when it did. I am not suggesting that we don’t maintain a positive mindset and the use of perspective to help us along our way but there clear ways in which you can avoid toxic positivity, both as recipient and helper.
There are ways to avoid toxic positivity, without being overly negative.
- Manage and regulate your emotions – just don’t deny them: I knew that I had a right to be upset about what happened and I was angry, hurt and upset, however I dug a bit deeper to understand what about the situation upset me. It allowed me to regulate my emotions and set clear boundaries for myself.
- Be realistic about what you should feel and know that it’s ok to feel more than one thing: while I was upset, I was also hopeful about the next opportunity. It’s ok to feel more than one thing at a time. We are complex beings, and our feelings and emotions are complex.
- Pay attention to your triggers: there are going to be people, phrases, that trigger you and understanding what and who those are is going to be important. You are allowed to do a digital detox or take time away from people that you feel invalidated by. It’s your right to take time away from them. I personally find some of the quotes, IG accounts and that are meant to be uplifting and happy, tend to make me feel guilty and shameful for feeling my feelings so I unfollow them for a little while, until I am ready.
What do you think? Have you ever experienced toxic positivity?