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Toxic Positivity

How many times have we shoved our negative feelings away, so as to not face them? The thought of shunning them instead of facing our emotions does seem easier, but is it actually as useful as it seems?

A lot of times you would hear people say, “Look at the bright side!” or use phrases such as “Everything happens for a reason”. Even though these may seem trivial, they could have a huge impact on a person who is being forced in denial of sorts. Toxic positivity results in invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.

Negativity surrounds every human from time to time, however having the mindset of remaining positive even in the most dire or distressing situations could impact negatively on a person’s mental health. Embracing one’s negative emotions is part of the human experience.

Judging ourselves for feeling pain, sadness, jealousy leads to emotions such as shame and distracts us from the situation at hand. Many a times our own family and friends tell us to “be grateful for what we already have’’ or “it could be worse”. While the intention behind such words might be pure, one might become disillusioned and anxious because of the overwhelming expectation of feeling positive even when things are looking down.

Like anything done in excess, positivity too can become toxic when it drives people to reach a sense of false happiness that could cause one more stress than accepting that the situation is not as good as one is making it out to be.

Once felt, one can move on from the negative emotions and channel their energy towards something productive. Denying one’s true feelings over and over again would exhaust them. Even if somehow a person is able to convince themselves that they are being optimistic, the thought would keep lingering on and nagging them. Along with anxiety, this could cause other long-lasting issues like diminished self-esteem and burnout.

Some consequences if not taken care of could be demeaning a loss, isolation and stigma because of the pressure of having a smile on one’s face as a result they might not reach out to others for help. It could also lead to communication issues in relationships, since toxic positivity could encourage people to ignore challenges they are faced with and focus on the positive. This approach could destroy communication and the ability to solve problems.

What needs to be taken care of is not the fact that we remain negative all the time, but to take note if we are dismissing feelings away that are not ‘positive’. Guilt or shame should not be felt for experiencing negative emotions. We must be mindful that we are not avoiding or hiding from uncomfortable feelings. We might just be ignoring real harm by false beliefs.

Positivity has no inherent harm, in fact it might even be a person’s strength during difficult times, however it could be harmful when it’s feigned, forceful, or degrade real feelings of fear, sadness, anxiety or hardship.


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