toxic positivity smile

Uncovering the Dangers of Toxic Positivity

Resilience Boosts Emotional Health, but is Too Much Positivity becoming Unhealthy? 

Resilience is having the skills to keep moving forward despite what life throws at you. It is the art of bouncing back from life’s challenges – and a quality that encourages overcoming these challenges knowing you will endure.

Resilience is when we encourage ourselves to reflect and take action before we react to emotion. Resilience means feeling every emotion – positive and negative – accepting them, responding to them and working through them in healthy ways.

When we are resilient, we understand that life doesn’t always go as expected – and we look for new and effective ways to pick ourselves back up and move forward.

Resilience does not filter our pain; it finds new ways to adjust it. It is a balanced approach that accepts being affected by what happens to us, but not defeated by it.

“I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it” – Maya Angelou 

Resilience can look like:

  •   Addressing the situation
  •   Appreciating all our emotions
  •   Taking time for yourself
  •   Finding new and creative solutions to change
  •   Creating new connections
  •   Building a support system
  •   Focusing on a new goal
  •   Exploring different possibilities
  •   Moving outside your comfort zone
  •   Falling and getting back up again – and again, and again
  •   Keeping up with a positive attitude – trusting you will manage

Resilience helps us make quicker and more effective decisions; it is about finding new ways to move forward – after all, how can we be resilient if we haven’t fallen over a couple of times?! But does too much positivity help cultivate resilience – or are we just encouraging repressing emotions?

Yes, resilience embraces positivity: we can be positive, accept change, focus on new goals – but is our perception of what resilience is, encouraging an overbearing amount of positivity?

Romanticising Resilience

Resilience is an admirable quality – but when life’s circumstances are a continuous struggle for survival – are we romanticising people’s resilience while mistaking it for survival? Are we living in a comfortable bubble of denial?

Are we starting to become less empathetic in an attempt to promote empathy?

Romanticising resilience can invalidate somebody’s experiences, or struggle for survival. We can only be expected to be resilient up to a certain point before life, society or a system wears us down.  

Positivity alone cannot dismantle the pain of individual and cultural experiences – loss, abuse, oppression, systemic racism – only to name a few. Romanticising resilience normalises other people’s traumatic reality – it does not empathise with their experiences, it invalidates them.

Romanticising resilience along with toxic positivity promotes an ideology that condemns vulnerability, neglects empathy and encourages false positivity at all costs.

In an effort to promote positivity, we are denying people’s reality. Rather than praising people for their resilience, we should be considering the systems or circumstances that force them to be.

For example, some BAME women have shared that they dislike being called resilient and strong because they do not choose to be this way – they have to be.  

 Resilience is not blind perseverance; resilience and strength also look like making a decision to protect our mental health.

 So, let’s start celebrating protecting mental health rather than condemning it!

Resilience and Toxic Positivity

Resilience allows us to process all emotions. It promotes the idea of persevering before giving up – but that it’s also okay to feel unprepared with unexpected change, or negatively affected by an experience.

Toxic positivity, however, is disingenuous and unrealistic: it encourages a false positive outlook on the world, even when channelling positivity is out of context or inappropriate.

Toxic positivity is a mainstream idea that we should focus on “staying positive” at all costs. It silences and discredits valid, but negative, thoughts and emotions. It is the belief that if we ignore or suppress the negative emotions, we will be happier, healthier and more resilient.  

 Toxic positivity promotes vulnerability as a weakness rather than a strength. It also condemns those who do not comply with an ideology that after all – is not attainable for all people.

It should be okay not be okay

Self-love and self-care messages may serve as reminders – but they should not be obligatory. Toxic positivity enables negativity by promoting the idea that we need to avoid emotional health processes – this idea may increase our risk of developing or experiencing higher rates of depression, anxiety or a mental illness long-term.  

Toxic positivity can look like:

  • Pretending everything is okay
  • Replacing the negative thoughts with gratitude
  • Attempting to make yourself and others feel better with false positivity
  • Ignoring negative thoughts or emotions
  • Looking for unhealthy ways to be productive
  • Ignoring other people because their negativity makes you uncomfortable
  • Accusing others of not being “positive enough”

Looking at the bright side can only happen when we have processed all the emotions that accompany our experiences.

So, is too much positivity doing more harm than good? Are we invalidating people’s struggles through unrealistic expectations? And are people less likely to open up about their struggle simply because they are not feeling positive enough?

If we want to promote positive discussions within a mental health space, we need to be able to simultaneously talk about mental health and mental illness. We also need to be able to come forward with the feelings and emotions that contribute to low emotional health.

 Toxic Positivity and Covid-19

It is important to highlight the increase in toxic positivity as of the start of the coronavirus pandemic, especially on social media.

Yes, we cannot deny that when the world stopped, a whole new world of self-reflection, self-care and super skills emerged – even Aladdin didn’t see that one coming. But while many have had the privilege to overlook the trauma and focus on creating TikTok content, so many have struggled and suffered directly or indirectly as a result of the pandemic.

“We’re all in this together” but are we drowning so deep in toxic positivity that we may forget that we’re not really all in this together?

Many people have lost loved ones, their jobs, their homes, or a sense of security within their own homes. Rates of domestic violence and child abuse have increased during lockdown. Social distancing, sanitiser and face masks were not accessible to all people…

We were all in a global pandemic together – but our experiences were all very different.

Rather than acknowledge the traumatic nature of the pandemic, social media sold us a toxic narrative on how to ignore it. But staying positive during a global pandemic can be as much a paradox as toxic positivity.

Positivity is beautiful – but staying positive at all times dismisses other people’s struggles – and silences them.

Mental health and toxic positivity do not go hand in hand: to stay mentally healthy, we have to be able to acknowledge the hardships before we can move onto the positive experiences. 

Overcoming Toxic Positivity

Toxic positivity can invalidate all people’s feelings – including our own. By shutting down emotions with positivity, we are more likely doing a lot more harm than good.

Toxic Positivity is weighing people down with disingenuous positivity rather than lifting them up with empathy.

So, are we doomed to an unrealistic perception of positivity? Or can we fight and overcome toxic positivity?

Here are a few tips on how you can deal with toxic positivity:

  • Share your feelings with a close support system

You don’t have to be open about everything you’re feeling with everyone you know or meet. 

But sharing your emotions with close connections can help you process them in healthy ways.

  • Avoid ignoring your emotions

You’ve got to dig deep into the bad before you can get to the good bits.

Allow yourself to feel all those complex emotions – ignoring them won’t make them go away.

  • Listen to other people

Try not to reinforce unhelpful mindsets on others.

 Validate people’s feelings – allow them to be vulnerable.

  • Take a day for yourself if you need to

There is no shame in needing time to process your emotions.

Cancel plans, take the day off and sit with yourself if you need to.  

  • Avoid unrealistic expectations of positivity 

There is no “right” way to be positive.

More often than not, the expectations imposed on us through social media are unattainable and unrealistic.  

  • Do things that make you feel good

Go for a walk. Join a Pilates class.

Paint, cook, dance, scream into a pillow. Whatever works for you.

Find creative ways to do things that make you feel good. This will simultaneously help you process your emotions and persevere with a positive attitude.  

Sending you extra positivity for the week,

 

Maya Rizk

MSc Clinical Psychology

Content and Marketing at eQuoo

 

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