‘Just stay positive…’
‘Everything will work out.’
‘Imagine how much worse things could be?’
I’ve recently come across a very interesting term called ‘toxic positivity’. This is very similar to the concept of toxic productivity that I’ve discussed before, whereby we push certain mindsets past a healthy threshold.
Today, I’ll speak about what I think toxic positivity is, how positivity can become toxic, why we experience it, emotional intelligence and vulnerability.
I enjoy discussing things that I often find myself guilty of following, because it’s how I grow and learn. The IG post below is where I found out about the concept and is a great place to learn more about it.
What is toxic positivity?
It is essentially portraying yourself as being happy all the time, regardless of what life throws at you. It’s rejecting the negative emotions that come up and living in an illusion that everything is perfectly okay. This meme perfectly sums it up for me:
How can positivity be toxic?
The term toxic refers to something being affected by poison. This is often the case when you’re obsessed to the degree that it no longer serves its original intent.
Positivity in and of itself is wonderful. It’s what keeps people going. It helps you see the best in situations. But don’t confuse positivity with optimism and don’t let positivity hinder your ability to feel negative emotions.
Our ability to feel a wide range of emotions is what inherently makes us human beings. Take a look at the diagram below. Can you imagine denying yourself more than 2/3 of that range? It’s all there for a reason, we’re meant to feel things.
When your sole focus becomes trying to always be ‘happy’, you’re falling into the toxic trap.
Why do we do it?
Because feeling sad sucks. It’s that simple really. We don’t enjoy the feelings of frustration, anger, disappointment, embarrassment or fear etc. However, that doesn’t mean that we should try and escape from experiencing them.
Always being cheerful is something embedded deep into our psyche from a very young age. Whereas being upset or frustrated is something frowned upon / ‘annoying’. This is why I believe that emotional intelligence is so important, because it allows us to understand that there’s a plethora of emotions that we need to understand and appreciate.
Just to be clear here, I’m in no way trying to tell you not to feel ecstatic, hopeful or optimistic. I’m merely trying to get you to understand how complicated we are as beings. Allow your self to experience the full range of emotions more regularly and accept them.
Self-awareness and acceptance
Self-awareness is arguably the most important skill to learn for emotional intelligence. This should definitely be followed by acceptance. When we’re able to identify and become aware of specific emotions, it enables us to accept them.
This process is extremely liberating because it teaches us not to hold onto or force away any feelings. When we’re able to be deeply present with ourselves, we are no longer slaves to our impulses.
“Better awareness >> Better choices >> Better results”
Vulnerability and empathy
Learning how to be appropriately vulnerable will catalyze meaningful connections in your life. You’ll not only amplify your ability to be kind to yourself, but you’ll be able to do the same for others.
This involves being open and honest about how you feel. Talking about what’s bothering you or what’s not going well for you. It’s about being realistic and showing that. Being empathetic will also play an important role in vulnerability, because you would need to relate to how other people are feeling by reflecting on similar experiences.
Toxic positivity encourages the suppression of emotions and faking the fact that things are okay. Being vulnerable encourages you to accept it and then allow it to pass.
It’s okay to not be okay.
Next time you do feel a storm whirring up inside of you, take a deep breath. Allow yourself to sit through the motion and gain an understanding of how your body reacts.
Things will be really shitty at times, but things will also be really great at times and that’s part of the journey. Understand that failure is part of growth and that it’s okay to want to give up. You’re exactly where you’re meant to be. Just keep trying your best to learn.