It’s Okay Not To Be Okay
Updated: Feb 13, 2022
Can we talk about toxic positivity?
“Positive vibes only”
“Everything happens for a reason.”
“Things could be worse.”
“At least you still have…”
“Think happy thoughts.”
These phrases are so commonplace. They slip out during conversation without much thought. Even though people say these things intending to bring comfort and cheer to the person who’s going through pain, loss, or grief, they are often empty, frustrating, and hard to hear. These phrases and many like them point to toxic positivity.
What is toxic positivity?
an obsession with positive thinking.
the belief that people should put a positive spin on all experiences, even those that are profoundly tragic.
the belief that no matter how dire or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset.
A case for positivity
On this blog, we’ve spoken about how the law of attraction, affirmations, and manifestations can help you move the mountains in your life by adopting positive energy and thinking more positively about your life. Yes, positivity does give us the drive to go out there and conquer the world.
But there’s nothing about life that’s black and white. Bad things happen: we lose jobs, go through illnesses that break us, heartaches that crack us open. When we go through hard life situations, a cocktail of emotions flows in and trying to “positive away" these emotions does little to nothing for us.
Why do we do it?
Statements like "Things could be worse", "Everything happens for a reason", "Be strong" spring out of us with good intentions. When we use toxic positivity with the people in our lives and the people we love, we hope to cheer them up, liven their spirits, and lighten the load on their shoulders. But the impact is not what we expect. Toxic positivity rejects difficult emotions in favor of a cheerful, often falsely positive, façade.
We're afraid of feelings
According to licensed therapist Jody Kemmerer, LCSW, toxic positivity stems from wishing we felt something else. We all desire lives filled with joy, happiness, ease, sparkles, and rainbows. When trouble, loss, and grief hit, we feel the need to shift and "turn (i.e force) that frown upside down" so strongly.
It’s easier to encourage people around us and ourselves to “look on the bright side”. Sitting with our feelings, going through the depths and meanings of our hurt is hard. It takes more time, effort, and energy. What people need is hard and more involved.
We are afraid to sit with our feelings of doubt, regret, loss, pain, and anger. We are afraid of embracing the truth that life can be hard and that bad things have happened either to us or the people in our lives.
We want to rush onto the next feel-good emotions, the next good news. We don't want to sit with negative emotions. But this won't make those shadow feelings go away.
We assume it’s always about self-pity
We are taught that thinking about our problems or negative feelings is a form of self-pity. Self-pity has a bad rep within society because of the common belief that anyone who speaks about their problems either does not desire to find a solution and only wants to ruminate over their problems and doom.
So, the moment someone starts to speak up about the hardships they are going through, we assume they are wallowing in self-pity and need to be jolted out of it.
Signs of toxic positivity
Hiding your painful emotions
Dismissing “negative” emotions when they arise
Trying to find the silver lining in every cloud even when you’re not fulfilled or happy
Feeling guilt for having “negative” emotions
Ignoring your problems and filling the space with positive sayings
Highlighting hardships that you think are worse to try and improve someone’s mood
Highlighting everything else that someone has going for themselves to dismiss their current state of mind or feelings
Dismissing or brushing off someone’s “negative” feelings
Telling people to “get over it” or urging them to “just keep at it” or “just pray” even in the face of hardships
Labelling those that do not share their hardships as strong, capable and likable