Going through a global pandemic, it is no secret that everyone enjoys and even seeks out news, stories, and things that give hope during a grim time. Be it stories of families getting closer due to the lockdown, young people opening a small business, shifting our perspectives at times can be an appropriate and helpful way to maintain sanity and to even have a fulfilling life. Many studies have looked at the role of optimism and positive thinking in mental and physical health. Positive thinking can involve a conscious focus on the benefits of a situation rather than its drawbacks, or a focus away from negative events; it can include a conscious attempt to back away from focusing on the negatives in life. It involves optimism and gratitude and supportiveness and can include positive affirmations as well as a determined effort to stop complaining. (Elizabeth Scott). People often comfort and cheer each other up by showing the brighter side of grim situations
So what is Toxic Positivity?
The phrase “toxic positivity” refers to the idea that keeping positive, and keeping positive only, is the right way to live your life. It entails only focusing on the good things in life and rejecting anything that may trigger negative emotions. Dr. Jamie Long (clinical psychologist ) defines toxic positivity as the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations.
Why is it toxic?
When one convinces self and others that only having a generally positive outlook on everything, leads to happiness and success they are denying the validity of the emotions such as frustration, anger that one feels when frustrating events take place. This leads to the hiding and denial of emotions that leads to more stress on the body and mind. When we create a fake persona that is always cheery and smiling, we deny ourselves and others the truth that life can be hard and painful at times. These suppressed emotions can later manifest in anxiety depression or even physical illness.
When we put on the onus of our happiness on our own perception of situations all the time we excuse the bad, discriminatory, insulting behavior and actions of others who have put us into the situation in the first place. Telling a friend that “everything happens for a reason” when they are being treated badly by their boss at work is an example of toxic positivity in this situation. Toxic positivity has allowed People and structures that are exploitative and discriminatory to get off the hook without taking responsibility for the damage that their actions do.
In denying the truth, we begin to live a fake life with ourselves and with the world. We lose ourselves, making it difficult for others to connect and relate to us. When we keep telling people around us to “look at the positive side”. “just think happy thoughts” we are unknowingly communicating to them that only” pleasant conversations allowed in my presence.” Which will make it difficult to express anything but “positive vibes” around us
Tips on how to be supportive without being toxic?
-Acknowledge both positive and negative emotions
-Sharing the person's practical responsibilities
-Simply listening and being there for the person so they can vent
-Suggesting activities that can distract at that moment while letting the person know you are there for them
Having a healthy and fulfilling life involves being conscious of our feelings and how we express ourselves in the world. Toxic positivity hurts oneself and others by insisting on this single “positive vibes only” mindset, which entails the shaming and repression of emotions. It also perpetuates the idea that individuals' sufferings are due to problems of their own “negative” perceptions and thinking, and not due to systemic problems like racism, sexism, etc. One should aim for balance and acceptance of all emotions without the guilt of been seen as a “killjoy” or “pessimistic” person.