Toxic Positivity and You

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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.

Sources

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/toxic-positivity

https://www.forbes.com/sites/juliawuench/2021/11/01/toxic-positivity-in-the-workplace/?sh=61a214af1e6f

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5836010/

© 2022, Stacy-Ann Campbell. All rights reserved.

9 thoughts on “Toxic Positivity and You

  1. Ashley L. Peterson – Canada – I'm the author of four books: Psych Meds Made Simple, Making Sense of Psychiatric Diagnosis, Managing the Depression Puzzle, and A Brief History of Stigma. These are informed by my professional experience as a former pharmacist and mental health nurse, as well as my lived experience of major depressive disorder. My goal with Mental Health @ Home is to challenge mental illness stigma and provide a safe space for open dialogue to empower others to share their voices.
    Ashley L. Peterson says:

    Ugh, toxic positivity drives me bonkers. It puzzles me that people don’t realize that it’s just not healthy to pretend that everything is rainbows and unicorns all the time.

  2. LA – 1) aspiring curmudgeon 2) culture vixen 3) adores cats and dogs equally 4) very amateur photographer 5) enthusiast of the written word, 6) Mom to high achieving teenager, 7) wife to foodie who won't eat cheese 8) cooks with reckless abandon 9) optimistic Met fan 10) lover of lists
    LA says:

    I hate toxic positivity…😆

  3. Pooja G – Hi there! I'm Pooja, the creator of Lifesfinewhine. I'm a historian and a freelancer. I love reading, writing, music, art and so much more!
    Pooja G says:

    Toxic positivity is so dangerous especially because sometimes people don’t realise it’s toxic positivity and think it’s just positivity. As a social media manager, I see a lot of toxic positivity online, especially from influencers and I think that can be quite damaging for people especially younger people.

    1. Thanks Pooja G. You are so right. And that’s also something I have in draft and I don’t think it will sit well with many people. Social media has fueled toxic positivity and it’s effects are evident based on the cases of suicide, abuse, etc.that I’m now seeing among the influencers.

      1. Pooja G – Hi there! I'm Pooja, the creator of Lifesfinewhine. I'm a historian and a freelancer. I love reading, writing, music, art and so much more!
        Pooja G says:

        Yeah some people don’t want to admit it but social media is incredibly toxic, especially influencer culture, and a lot of that is what made toxic positivity such a huge problem.

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