Many of us can recall at least one instance where something had not worked out & someone chimed in with a “stay positive” affirmation. It has become rather common these days to just brush away a lot of situations similarly. While it’s a good sentiment it doesn’t translate well every time. Even the most well-intentioned reassurances for staying positive can become damaging. These then veer into the zone of toxic positivity. Staying positive isn’t inherently wrong. But insincere and forced positivity is callous and misguided.
What it is:
Dr Jaime Zuckerman, a Pennsylvania based clinical psychologist explains,” Toxic positivity is the assumption, either by one’s self or others, that despite a person’s emotional pain or difficult situation, they should only have a positive mindset…” It often comes in the form of being grateful for whatever happens which is a terrifying approach towards one’s emotions. Trying to be positive when you want to be sad, or angry or disappointed is harmful. Taking away agency to feel these emotions-negative as they may be, is just covering up and bottling the issues. It is not real growth. Rather it’s hiding from the confrontation of the ugly situations.
What it does:
What toxic positivity does is delegitimize the issue at hand and generalize the suffering and emotions of a person. For instance, if someone has just failed an exam and we probe this person to stay positive; we are taking away their need to grieve in the situation. Besides, every person takes their own time to heal and recover. Some people get over their issues within days and some can’t let go for years to come. When we apply a veneer of positivity over everything without any regard for the subjective circumstances, we do a disservice to the individual process of healing.
What it leads to:
Toxic Positivity creates pressure to be OK all the time. This is impossible no matter who you are. When our primary emotions like- frustration, sadness & disappointment are suppressed by layers of obligatory positivity, we tend to give rise to other emotions. These are secondary emotions like shame and regret. These secondary emotions can be maladaptive and minimizing. This inherently leads to pressure to live up to the positivity that we portray but aren’t capable of realistically. It is very easy to get into a cycle of this unsubstantial coping.
What do we do:
Ignorance of reality cannot beget your happiness. Confronting it will! This is not to say one has to be wary of positivity. Looking forward to happy circumstances, believing that your day is going to be wonderful, being hopeful for the future are all healthy ways to be positive. But when a situation is challenging you, or demanding a negative emotion; allow yourself to feel that too. Do not mask those emotions with fake positivity. Validate them with the reality of your circumstances.
You do not have to pretend to be ok. Remember! It is ok to not be ok!