I’m not a big fan of “positive vibes only”.
Don’t get me wrong, I love an inspirational positive quote as much as the next person, but I have some concerns about an insistence on 100% positivity all day, every day.
It may seem counterintuitive to suggest that we shouldn’t be aiming for 100% positivity – I mean, who would advocate for negativity?
However, there’s this pesky little thing called being realistic that I just can’t shake.
Life is not 100% positive. Sometimes things happen that even the most dedicated optimist can’t spin into a positive, and if we attempt to turn every negative situation into a positive, then we are taking part in what is known as toxic positivity.
What is toxic positivity?
According to The Psychology Group, toxic positivity is:
the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations.
Essentially, engaging in toxic positivity means that you only recognise and/or share positive emotions and ignore and/or hide anything that could be perceived as negative.
An example of this could be when someone discloses a significant trauma, only to be told: “well at least it was a good learning opportunity so you can grow”.
Sorry, but sometimes things are just shit, and being encouraged or even pressured to rewrite the experience as a positive one can be extremely damaging; it’s invalidating and completely dismisses the pain and other negative emotions that may be present.
Taking it down to the other end of the spectrum, low-level toxic positivity can be just as damaging, because it creates an environment in which it is pretty much impossible to express any feelings of discontent, discomfort, sadness, and so on. Suppressing these entirely natural emotions can create feelings of guilt or shame for feeling anything other than exaggerated joy at any given moment.
This is just an entirely unattainable goal. No one can be positive all the time – it’s just not possible.
It is healthy to express our negative emotions; in fact, not just healthy, but vital.
Now that’s not to say that we should accept being in a constant state of negativity or dwelling on negative thoughts and emotions. However, it is so important to acknowledge, feel, and express these emotions in order to prevent them from festering.
Furthermore, it is crucial to allow and facilitate others in this process. If we respond to someone’s “negativity” with toxic positivity, we are essentially telling them that they’re doing something wrong; that they shouldn’t feel that way and that we’re judging them for not “being positive” about the situation. This will only lead them to experience guilt and shame and put pressure on them to hide their real emotions, presenting only a positive façade.
No one should have to live that way.
Coping with negative emotions, thoughts, or experiences is difficult enough as it is, without desperately trying to pretend that you’re “looking on the bright side” 24/7.
Sometimes we just need to acknowledge that something is shit, and that we feel shit about it. Give the negative emotions their time; talk about or express the negativity, whether it’s through writing, art, music, dance, or even visiting a Rage Room.
Life doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom, but pockets of it probably will be.
And that’s okay.
What are your thoughts on toxic positivity? Let me know in the comments.