We live in a time when negative emotions (anger, fear, guilt, sadness, disgust, boredom, shame, and feelings of distress or just unhappiness, etc.) are not welcomed but instead frowned upon. Instead, the preference is for persons to always display chirpiness, happiness, laughter or some other form of positive emotion because after all, life is all about happiness. This need for persons to ignore negative emotions and embrace positivity and happiness at all times is referred to as toxic positivity. And of course, we can just imagine the impact on our ability to handle and express negative emotions due to the decreased privacy.
What is Toxic Positivity
The debate is still ongoing about the formal definition of toxic positivity and its effect however surely most people can relate to it in some way or another. Toxic positivity is stated by Psychology Today as “the act of avoiding, suppressing or rejecting negative emotions or experiences. This may take the form of denying your own emotions or someone else denying your emotions, insisting on positive thinking instead”.
Situations of Toxic Positivity
Instances of toxic positivity can be found within our personal lives and within the workplace where at times, true feelings are expected to be suppressed once they are negative. Take for example the workplace, the expectation that one must always be happy, smiling and saying nice things is a dangerous expectation. Surely employers want happy staff but from time to time other emotions will be present and staff should be aware that such emotions can be shared and displayed respectfully. Pushing for toxic positivity in the workplace will only lead to poor communication, lack of trust, disengaged staff and a culture of hidden feelings, mental and physical ill-health, all of which will result in low or reduced productivity. The same applies to situations at home, how will you be able to resolve conflicts with your spouse or children if instead of acknowledging negative emotions, toxic positivity is pushed forward instead?
A few of the typical signs of toxic positivity
- Disowning or denying negative feelings
- Invalidation of natural feelings or emotions arising from distress
- Guilt about negative feelings
- Inability to respect and respond appropriately to the emotional experiences of others
- Emotional shaming of others during periods of distress or negative feelings
Handling Negative Emotions
But suppressing negative emotions is never good because they will resurface, oftentimes when they have reached an explosive stage. Attempts should be made to be open to receiving and expressing negative emotions. This also means that it is good to acknowledge and embrace such emotions whenever they appear as well as handle them in the best way possible for a solution.
Acknowledging negative emotions could be as simple as asking yourself or the person who is experiencing the emotion questions and statements about current feelings. Questions and statements below may be used as a guide:
- “What impact does this have on me/you?”
- “How does this situation make me/you feel?”
- “Realistically speaking, what is the ideal or preferred situation that I/you want to make this better?”
- “What practical steps can be taken to make this better?”
- “Tell me more”
- “What can I do to help?”
- “I see”
- “I hear you and I understand”
Note that a solution does not always mean that the stressor that caused the negative feeling will be fixed or go away, but instead that a decision has been made on how to handle the situation.
And a bit of advice, it is best to leave the “How are coping?” question to a trained therapist who will know the suitable situations and conditions under which to ask that question.
So, in summary, it is important that we acknowledge, understand and embrace all our emotions and the emotions of others. After this, work can be done on a pathway to possible solutions or acceptance that will lead to genuine happiness. And if the negative feelings or emotions are lingering for a bit too long or becoming a part of one’s demeanour then professional help should be obtained to handle the situation. But the answer for negative feelings or emotions is not toxic or fake positivity.
© 2022, Stacy-Ann Campbell. All rights reserved.