Toxic Positivity

Toxic Positivity

Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse
When you're chewing on life's gristle
Don't grumble, give a whistle
And this'll help things turn out for the best

Always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the light side of life

~Monty Python

What is Toxic Positivity?

Toxic positivity is the belief that, no matter how horrible things are, one should maintain a positive outlook.  It’s taking positive thinking way over the top.  It’s really a lack of empathy towards yourself or others.  Now, I am a positive person and I encourage others to look at the bright side of things as well…however, I want myself (and you!) to experience the full range of emotions- which includes being bummed when bumming things happen!

Examples of toxic positivity may include

  • Comments like “just stay positive” or “look on the bright side” when bad things happen.  While probably meant to be encouraging, it can come across as invalidating and also closes the door to more discussion on how you really feel about a situation

  • Saying, “everything happens for a reason.”  Um, yes, that’s true.  But is it helpful?  No!  Again, it side steps pain and disappointments (which, btw, are normal emotions!).

  • Saying, “happiness is a choice.”  Listen, if we could all just choose our emotions, I would be out of a job and you wouldn’t be reading this blog!

  • Feeling guilt or shame when you are experiencing negative emotions

  • Hiding your true feelings from others

  • Shaming others for feeling negative emotions

What can you do?

  • You can experience and process through all of your emotions, not just push aside the difficult ones

  • Be realistic about your emotions.  If something funny happens, it makes sense to feel happy.  If something sad or disappointing happens, it makes sense to feel sad or disappointed!

  • We are complicated people with complicated emotions…it’s okay to feel more than one thing at a time!

  • Show support to others

  • If you don’t know what to say or do to make someone (or yourself) feel better, that’s okay!  Again, it’s okay not to feel great 100% of the time!  Be with that person and share in their feelings, don’t try to wipe them away!  (Same goes for you!)

  • Teach your kids that it’s okay to be feel okay.  A ‘go to’ parenting move is to immediately tell our kids that “they’re okay.”  While meant to be reassuring (but also maybe to make them stop crying? #behonest), we may be teaching them that it’s not okay to be not okay.  Instead, trying helping them to name their feelings (“it looks like you feel sad”) and then help them figure out things that they can do to help themselves.

  • Don’t promise things that you can’t guarantee.  I can’t promise that “it’ll all be okay” because (1) I have no idea what “okay” means for you and (2) I have yet to receive my magical powers to make everything wonderful.  I can promise you that I will walk with you or that you are strong, but don’t make guarantees on unguaranteeable things!

  • Practice mindfulness so that you can experience what you need to experience!

  • Clarify your needs and make sure that you know what others are looking for from you as well.  Maybe ask, “do you want to process or problem solve” when a friend brings up something that is going on in their life.  If they just want to process, then don’t give them false hope, invalidations, and suggestions that they probably have already thought of!  

“I’d rather be whole than good”

~Carl Jung

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