When I think about positivity, my mind usually goes to those motivational Instagram posts and a super bubbly friend who never seems to get unhappy. That’s fine. Positivity is great, because it keeps us from sinking into negativity and despair. However, in the case of toxic positivity, it can often lead to the very suffering that it aims to uproot.
So what is toxic positivity?
The Psychology Group website defines it as “the overgeneralisation of a happy, optimistic state that results in the denial, minimisation, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.” That’s a mouthful, but it all boils down to the fact that toxic positivity is the application of happiness to all situations, which can stunt and repress all other feelings and make us think that we need to be happy-go-lucky all the time.
One example is social media. How often have you scrolled through your feed and seen only beaming faces? Have you ever taken content when you’re feeling upset or sad, but only post the picture of you smiling? This is one of the reasons social media is toxic, because maybe you look at the likes those posts get and determine that only happy people get attention. It’s a vicious cycle.
You have to cut it out of your life. How do you do that?
First, you need to acknowledge what sort of ways toxic positivity shows up in your day to day life. It can look like:
Hiding your true feelings behind a happy mask
Refusing to acknowledge your emotions
Feeling guilty for feeling a certain way
Trying to make the best of things
Bringing perspective into it (eg: saying “it could be worse”) instead of validating your situation
Brushing things off
There are a lot of phrases that fall into the ‘toxic’ category. Here are a few just so you know what to look for:
“You’ll get over it.”
“It could be worse.”
“But think about all the people going through _____.”
“Don’t be so negative!”
“Suck it up.”
Start validating your emotions. Stop hiding behind a happy mask. Research shows that repressing emotions leads to increased levels of stress, and can manifest later on it different ways such as anxiety, depression, and even physical illness.
Sometimes it’s going to be hard to understand when something positive is toxic or to tell yourself, “hey, it’s okay to feel this way,” but the more you stay on the lookout the better it will be in the long run.
Stay safe and stay healthy! 💛