The Low Down on Toxic Positivity
What is it? Why it's affecting your happiness and how you can move past it!
What is toxic positivity?
Toxic positivity is when you're made to feel like the best way to handle negative emotions or difficult times is to be positive or to just focus on happy things. It's masking real, raw emotions behind smiles or a #GoodVibesOnly mindset. Whilst it's incredibly beneficial to have a positive outlook on life, burying how you really feel, no matter how bad it is, leads to repressed emotions and takes away the validity of how we actually feel!
Why is it problematic?
I'll be totally transparent here - I thought I couldn't be a happiness coach because I have depression. There are days when I really struggle to get out of bed, brush my teeth or even change my clothes. I don't want to talk to anyone and my introverted traits come out in full force. I felt like I was being fraudulent if I had these ‘dark’ days. How could I promote happiness if some days all I felt was sadness? How could I help people find happiness when there are days when I feel anything but? I felt like I had to hide how I really felt - like it was a dirty secret. And that's the problem with toxic positivity. It makes you feel like you have to keep your struggles and feelings hidden so that people don't think you're a negative Nancy or a buzzkill. It causes you to feel shame for how you really feel, so you push it down and paint on a smile.
Toxic positivity can also be detrimental to our relationships and the connections we have with others. If you go to a friend and open up to them about how you feel and they respond with, “Oh don't worry, just stay positive!" how likely will you be to open up to them again? Or if you always say that things are great and how wonderful life is, how likely do you think other people will be to open up to you? When we form relationships, the strongest ones are based on trust and relatability - if you can't connect with or relate to what someone is saying, that relationship isn't going to last. Not only that but the relationship you have with yourself will suffer. The more you suppress your true feelings, the more disconnected you become from yourself. You create a positive, happy persona whilst inside your drowning and in time, you lose who you are.
Another problem with toxic positivity is that you will be eternally chasing happiness. Being told that your life should always be positive and “high vibe” will only make you feel worse on days where your mood is off, you've had difficult news or you've simply had a bad day. Expecting every day to be like a closing scene from a rom com just isn't realistic. Life will undoubtedly throw something unexpected our way or, we'll just have normal fluctuating emotions cos you know, we're human! True happiness comes from experiencing all emotions, even the unhappy ones, and knowing this is a normal part of life.
What does it look and sound like?
“Always look for the silver lining.”
Let's start with how it looks. These may be things you find yourself doing or how others have responded to you.
• Feeling guilty for how you feel
• Hiding how you really feel or dismissing your emotions
• Keeping yourself busy or focusing on something positive to avoid your feelings
• Using positive quotes or big-picture perspective in reply to someone's experiences or worries
•Making others feel bad for focusing on negative emotions or events
You might also hear specific phrases that have an undercurrent of toxic positivity. For example:
• It could be worse!
• Look on the bright side…
• Everything happens for a reason.
• Good vibes only!
• Don't worry about it.
• At least you've not…
If you recognise yourself in any of the statements, please do not start giving yourself a hard time.
An alternative approach
Rather than aiming to feel good all the time or expecting your life, and others, to be in a constant positive state, focus on balance. Allow both the good and the bad! Let yourself feel how you really feel and don't hide it to appease anyone else. Having feelings or strong emotions does not make you a drag or a bore…it makes you human! Let others see that it's ok to feel less than good and that every feeling is valid. This is my promise to you. I will never only show you the happy moments - you'll get the messy, frustrated and everything-in-between moments too.
If you are on the receiving end of toxic positivity, do what you need to remove it from your life, whether that's unfollowing accounts that make you feel like a failure or ashamed of your feelings, or speaking to friends and family about how their responses make you feel.
It will be much better for your overall happiness if you accept and welcome all the emotions that come from life.