We all know that person. The one who always seems to be happy and positive, no matter what life throws their way. They’re the ones who never seem to get upset or angry, and they always have a smile on their face. While this may seem like an ideal personality trait, new research is suggesting that this type of “toxic positivity” can actually do more harm than good for our mental health.
In this blog post, I will explore what toxic positivity is, why it damages our mental health, and how we can engage with our negative emotions in a healthier manner.
What is Toxic Positivity?
Toxic positivity is the excessive and unrealistic promotion of positive thinking. It’s the idea that we should always look on the bright side of things, and that we should push away any negative emotions or thoughts.
While it’s important to be optimistic and to find the silver lining in difficult situations, toxic positivity goes beyond that. It’s the idea that we should never feel sad, angry, or scared, and that we should always put on a brave face, no matter what.
Different Forms of Toxic Positivity
Toxic positivity can take many different forms. Here are some common phrases that you might hear:
“Don’t worry, be happy!”
“Keep your chin up!”
“Things could be worse!”
“Snap out of it!”
“Everything happens for a reason.”
“It’s all good!”
“Just think positive!”
“Choose to be happy.”
These phrases may seem harmless, but they can actually be quite damaging.
Let’s say you’ve just lost your job. You’re feeling scared and anxious about the future, and you confide in a friend. But instead of comforting you, they tell you to “just be positive” and that “everything happens for a reason.”
This phrase invalidates your feelings and makes it seem like you’re not allowed to be sad or scared. It’s as if they’re saying, “You shouldn’t be feeling this way, so just stop!”
This is not only unhelpful, but it can also make you feel worse.
How Toxic Positivity Damages Our Mental Health
Toxic positivity is damaging is because it prevents us from dealing with our negative emotions in a healthy way. Suppressing our emotions can lead to them coming out in other, unhealthy ways. For example, you might find yourself overeating, drinking too much alcohol, or engaging in other risky behaviours.
Another problem with toxic positivity is that it sets us up for unrealistic expectations. If we’re always told to “just be positive,” we might start to believe that we should never feel anything other than happiness.
But the reality is that life is full of ups and downs, and it’s normal to feel a range of different emotions. When we don’t allow ourselves to feel our negative emotions, we can end up feeling worse in the long run.
The negative impact of toxic positivity –
First, it invalidates our negative emotions. When we stuff down our sadness, anger, or fear, we’re not giving ourselves permission to feel those emotions. This can lead to emotional repression, which can be damaging to our mental health.
Second, it creates a false sense of reality. When we only focus on the positive, we’re not allowing ourselves to see the whole picture. This can lead to unrealistic expectations and a lot of disappointment.
And finally, it can lead to burnout. When we’re constantly pushing away negative emotions, it takes a lot of energy. This can lead to exhaustion, both emotionally and physically.
How to Deal with Negative Emotions
There are times when it is appropriate to put on a brave face and power through difficult situations. But there are also times when we need to allow ourselves to feel our emotions, process them, and then let them go.
The first step to effectively dealing with our negative emotions is to embrace them. This doesn’t mean that we should dwell on them or wallow in self-pity. But it does mean that we should allow ourselves to feel them, acknowledge them, and work through them. After all, these emotions did not arise in a vacuum, so it’s important that we take the time to understand why we’re feeling them.
The second step is to deal with our negative emotions in a healthy way. This means finding healthy outlets for our emotions, such as talking to a friend or therapist, journaling, or going for a walk. It also means finding ways to cope with our emotions in the moment, such as deep breathing or meditation.
The third and final step is to let go of our negative emotions. This doesn’t mean forgetting about them or pretending they never happened. It means accepting that they are a part of life and learning to move on.
How to Respond to Someone who is Expressing Negative Emotions
If someone you know is expressing negative emotions, the best thing you can do is to listen to them and validate their feelings. This doesn’t mean that you have to agree with everything they’re saying. But it does mean that you should let them know that you understand how they’re feeling and that their feelings are valid.
You can also offer support and encouragement, but be careful not to push your own agenda. For example, if someone is grieving the loss of a loved one, you might offer to help them with funeral arrangements or just be there to listen. But you shouldn’t try to force them to “move on” or tell them that they should be grateful for the time they had.
Sometimes when we are facing someone who is struggling, we panic and resort to clichés and platitudes. But the truth is that sometimes the best thing we can do is just be there for someone, and let them know that we care.
The bottom line is that we all need to be able to express our emotions, both positive and negative. And we all need to be able to find healthy ways to deal with them.
The Takeaway about Toxic Positivity and Mental Health
Negative emotions are a part of life, and they play an important role in our mental and emotional wellbeing. Acknowledge your negative emotions and allow yourself to feel them. Recognize that it’s okay to be sad, angry, or scared.
These emotions are normal and they’re a part of the human experience. By embracing them, dealing with them in a healthy way, and then letting them go, we can live a happier and more authentic life.