Just be positive! Don’t dwell on it. Move on.
Have you ever been given input that was condescending rather than compassionate? It can seem positive. The person usually means well, but it hurts you more than it helps. In actuality, it can be toxic.
The advice to just be positive often enables repression, shame, regret, feelings of failure, and more because it is not always achievable in that moment. It enables more negative emotions rather than helping you be exactly that: positive.
It is an unhealthy positivity.
How to Tell the Difference Between Healthy Positivity & Unhealthy Positivity
Toxic Positivity is a term that means… “You must be positive, at all times, no matter what.” It’s another way of saying, “power through it” at whatever expense. It is not simply being positive. It is an unhealthy way of being positive.
Healthy Positivity is coping with negative emotions through positive thinking strategies without denying that pain’s right to be there.
Toxic Positivity interferes with the progress in your life. Healthy Positivity inspires purpose in your life.
When Toxic Positivity happens, a lot can occur with it.
Downplaying depression, putting off problems, ignoring anxiety, faking it til you make it instead of facing it are problematic approaches that become toxic. The person in pain is being blamed for how they feel rather than being listened to or accepted.
Here are some other examples of Toxic Positivity or some suggestions you might hear:
- “Stop being so negative.” This time the person is guilting you for having emotions.
- “There are people who have it worse than you.” Downplaying pain through a comparison game. Feeling negative is equated to ungratefulness.
- “Did you try hard enough?” This leaves you feeling that your effort was not sufficient.
- “Yes you can” to something you cannot or struggle to do. It may mask a disability, trauma, emotional issue or more if someone simply says yes you can.
Toxic Positivity is not kind. It strips the root problem of its importance by telling you to ignore feelings. It believes willpower is the answer to everything. It preaches intolerance towards processing emotions. It shames the person having an emotional experience when that person may truly need help.
Sometimes, we don’t hear the things we need to hear when going through our worst. We have to tell those things to ourselves.
Examples of Healthy Positivity
Here are examples of healthy positivity or suggestions to say to others:
“I am with you.” You don’t have to have the answers, but let the person know they aren’t alone.
“I don’t know why this happened but I know you’ll use it for something.” This one still doesn’t assume an answer to their suffering, but it let’s them know they still have some say or power over it.
“I’m so sorry.” Simple and to the point.
Rather than promoting simply positive thinking that conversely causes them to whiteknuckle through their pain, you are telling them that they are not alone and do not have to have the answers to this problem in order to find peace or purpose in it. That reassures them that they are not being judged.
Healthy Positivity Thinking Strategies
For Healthy Positivity thinking strategies, consider the following:
When processing emotions, it’s important to name each one that surfaces. Say “I feel __ and it is okay to feel that way.” Naming the emotion actually takes its power away. Rationality returns. We then respond rather than react.
Emotions make us human. They are part of survival but also part of the experience. They are not to be shamed, downplayed or ignored. Otherwise, repression interrupts the healing process.
Rather than pushing through the pain with Toxic Positivity, try processing the pain. It will make all the difference. Process it and find purpose in it rather than simply try to use positivity to cancel out the pain. Reach out when you need more help. Educate those that misunderstand you. Let others know your needs– Do you need to vent or be distracted in the moment? This is self advocacy.
Pain itself is not the problem. It notifies us that something is wrong.
Processing the pain helps us to reduce the pain rather than repress it. You are allowed to feel it. But don’t let it define you, don’t BE sad just FEEL sad. When your identity is not wrapped up in what you are feeling, you find breakthroughs in how to act on each emotion.
Compassion for the emotional vulnerability you experience rather than rejection of it is a powerful thing. It leads you to want to heal, to want to get better, to want to make peace with what you feel and want to ultimately release whatever is bothering you. You are safe, you are allowed to feel, you are allow to be human. That’s what makes you special.
Each day is a chance for change, for renewal, to start over again.
What you’re going through matters. It means that feelings wants to be felt, a story wants to be told, a problem wants to be solved. Self-compassion is compassion for yourself and kindness shown towards the emotion.
Self-compassion can lead to self love, and that feels pretty positive.