The psychology of toxic positivity

Toxic positivity? Sounds like such a huge oxymoron, right? Two completely opposite words put together. But what if I tell you that this is a big problem in our world nowadays. Positivity is good in itself. But too much positivity, when someone isn’t asking for it, can lead to more harm than good. No one can remain positive all the time. From the very beginning, we have been taught to always see the light at the end of tunnel, see the positives in even dire situation and always keep a positive outlook towards the world.

But many of us know how difficult it can be. And how much it eats someone up, emotionally and mentally.

So what exactly is toxic positivity?

Positive thinking, for decades, has been highlighted and glorified as something having a really high potential. And to an extent, it really has helped a lot of people. But no amount of thoughts or positivity exists in a vacuum. Social support and self-efficacy, which decides a person ability to cope, interacts with positive thinking and increases the same in a person.

But when positive thinking is shoved on people who are going through a rough patch in their life, it starts taking the shape of toxic positivity. Extrinsically or intrinsically, people start forcing to control and avoid their negative emotions. This ultimately leads to that negative emotion boiling up to the extreme measures – anxiety, depression and in some cases, suicides.

Identifying toxic positivity

Toxic positivity can be seen in any shape or dialogue that we must be having with someone or ourselves. Some of them can be seen on a rough day or a bad day and some when the world tells you, “Be strong! Its just a phase. This too will pass.” This shows that how easily we are wired to let someone’s negative emotions be not validated. Or if something bad has happened to you, someone comes and says, “Its all part of the plan. Good things only happen after rough times.” All of this, even though might be said with the best interest, sounds really condescending. It does more harm than good. The person experiencing the negative emotions might just feel that the person saying this, is just saying for the sake of it. They wouldn’t feel they are being listened to or being given space to experience these emotions fully.

What makes toxic positivity harmful?

Pain, anxiety, stress, grief, etc. are all normal human emotions. These all need to be fully felt by a person so that they can recover from them fully. What toxic positivity does is it makes someone who feels these emotions, feel shameful. Or guilty. Or just avoid emotions which are totally natural to have and can help in the growth and maturity of a person. Avoiding these emotions breaks the confidence of a person to take on further challenges in their lives. It makes them ignore these authentic feelings, which leads them to discount or dismiss these feelings totally. These all things ultimately leads to a person who, even though feels a ton of negative emotions, will never showcase them and let them out, because that person does not know how to.

How to avoid this toxicity then?

Negative emotions can easily cause stress and distress when left unchecked. But they can also lead to some amazing changes in your life, if they are allowed to flow through in a controlled manner. Self-care during these times is the most important. If you feel any sort of negative emotion, take a break from the activity that is inducing these emotions and give yourself some space and time to recuperate from it. These are some ways which can help you in regulating toxic positivity, internally. But when another person is pushing you with random nuisances of positivity, feel free to tell them to give you space or leave you alone. And whenever you feel like that you are ready to talk about it, open up to the people you are most comfortable with. Keep the expectations of your dialogue clear with them so that they don’t start giving suggestions to improve your well-being during that time. It will help you tackle toxic positivity in a much smarter and healthier way.

And on somedays ask yourself in a given situation on how you truly feel? Dig deeper, sometimes we have the answers within us about a given situation or a person but are too skeptical or even scared to say it out loud. You don’t always have to put on an armored suit, with a big smile on your face and show up to the world.