Were you ever told or tell yourself any of the the below statements:
“You’ll get over it.”
“Never give up.”
“Stop being so negative.”
“Just be happy.”
“Everything happens for a reason.”
“You’ll be fine.”
“Look on the bright side.”
Have you ever felt misunderstood by your friends and family when you share what you are struggling with? Have you ever felt that what you are going through shouldn’t be so hard and that you need to just get over it and move on? Do you ever find yourself saying positive things that don’t really seem to help the situation?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions you are not alone. As humans we often are hardwired to believe that it is not “okay” to feel anything bad or that bad or sad emotions are not okay. Whether we are the ones experiencing the emotion or someone we love is sad, we want to fix the “problem” as fast as we can. In an act of desperation, we fire off comments and statements that often leave a loved one feeling unheard and unseen.
These statements and the belief that we shouldn’t feel unpleasant emotions is referred to as “toxic positivity.” Toxic positivity is the dismissing of a negative feeling or responding to a distressing situation with false optimism. Ultimately, toxic positivity is the belief that no matter how hard or difficult an event or life is that people should have a positive mindset and attitude. Although thinking positive can help change perspective and create hope in challenging situations, it can also be a method in which we reject difficult emotions and put up a façade.
As humans we were made to experience a wide degree of emotions. We are suppose to feel happiness, surprise, disgust, anger and sadness. Experiencing all of the emotions we have, allows us to process difficult seasons of life. It helps us process pain in a honest and open manner.
When an individual isn’t able to find the “bright side,” or “get over it,” or “just be happy,” they often can feel shameful or guilty. Believing the lie that they are broken and unable to heal or that they aren’t grateful or that what they are going through isn’t that hard. An individual might use toxic positivity as an avoidance mechanism, we deny or dismiss our true feelings, leaving them for a different day or even never. When we internalize toxic positivity, we prevent ourselves from growing or facing the challenges we were given, which lead to a deeper understanding of oneself and others.
So how do you recognize toxic positivity in your life? Some of the most common signs include: avoiding the problem - rather than facing it, hiding your true feelings, minimizing your feelings, shaming others when they don’t have a positive attitude, trying to be stoic and not allowing yourself to experience painful emotions, and feeling guilty about being sad, angry or disappointed.
If any of these resonate with you, there are things you can do to develop a healthier more supportive and understanding approach towards facing difficult emotions and situations. Some ideas are outlined below:
· Seek to understand your negative or difficult emotions, but don’t deny or dismiss them. Negative emotions tell us a story, they indicate important information that allows us to make more informed decisions that can lead to positive changes in our lives.
· Give yourself permission to feel what you feel. There are no right and wrong ways to feel. If you are stressed, worried or scared about something, that is normal and you should feel those things. Focus on what you can change or control in the situation and focus on caring for yourself during these times.
· It’s okay to feel both positive AND negative feelings at the same time. In life when often can be excited about something, but at the same time be worried and afraid. Human emotions are complex, just like the situation you are tackling.
· Notice how you feel. Be curious about yourself and how you are feeling. Ask yourself how you are feeling, whether you are feeling good or bad. Think about what impact relationships, social media, and day to day life events have on you and consider limiting things that leave you feeling shameful or drained. This can allow for more authentic positivity.
· Focus on listening and showing support to others who might be struggling. When someone you know and love expresses a difficult emotion, don’t shut it down, rather listen and let them know what they are feeling is understandable and normal. Ask how you can better support them through this time, even if it is as simple as listening.
Ultimately, give yourself and others permission to feel hard things in order to learn and grow. Don’t dismiss negativity, rather listen and focus on what you can change and caring for yourself and others during difficult seasons. Seek professional help, if you ever experience emotions that are too overwhelming or leave you feeling helpless and hopeless. You are never alone, there is always someone out there to listen and support.
Olivia Campbell, MS, LPC