How maintaining a positive mindset during difficult times can be an unrealistic and unhealthy approach to living life for most of us.
What is Toxic Positivity?
We live in the social media bubble of grind, hustle and positive vibes only. Everyone is busy with building their own empires, with no time for negativity and reflection. As a result of this, many people strive towards maintaining a fully positive mindset, and in the process of it they often get rid of any negative thoughts and feelings which they are experiencing. But is this a healthy approach to life? Toxic positivity is an excessive and obsessive approach to maintaining a positive mindset, no matter how bad the situation you are in may be. The process of toxic positivity results in the denial, minimisation, and the invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience. Many people may argue that maintaining a positive outlook on life can be beneficial for our well-being and mental health. In addition, a 2018 study of college students suggests that a high self-esteem may support positive thinking, reducing the risk of suicidal ideas and gestures. As research suggests, a positive mindset can be beneficial for many of us. However, at what point does this obsession become unhealthy and unrealistic to maintain?
The extent to which toxic positivity can take place often does not make any sense, yet so many people seem to live their life this way. The unhealthy approach of "everything happens for a reason, so stay positive" when your parents hear a cancer diagnosis, or when your friend suddenly passes away. How are some people able to remove all their negative thoughts and maintain positivity when they see how cruel the real world can be?
Why is Toxic Positivity Harmful?
There are many reasons why toxic positivity can be an extremely harmful, unhealthy and unrealistic approach to our mental health and well-being.
Firstly, it causes guilt. If you are finding it difficult to stay positive, you start feeling less worthy of a person, since people around us and on social media appear to live a happy life with a positive attitude.
Secondly, it can make you feel shameful. As individuals our feelings should be valid, and people should not make us feel bad for feeling the way we do. Toxic positivity, however, puts a huge emphasis on constantly feeling positive, and therefore people are becoming ashamed to express their true emotions.
Thirdly, toxic positivity prevents human growth. Facing difficult life challenges can be a rollercoaster of both negative and positive emotions, and this helps us grow and develop as individuals. However, with no room for expressing our true emotions, there is no room for character development.
Unhealthy Signs of Toxic Positivity
We all have different ways of coping with our own life difficulties. However, it is extremely important to be able to recognise when you, or someone you know could be showing unhealthy signs of toxic positivity. Some signs and scenarios you could potentially experience yourself or notice in your friends and family behaviour are:
Experiencing guilt for being sad or angry
Dismissing others' difficult feelings
Hiding painful emotions
Reciting "positive quotes" during hard situations
Ignoring your problems
Urging yourself or other people to focus on positive aspects of devastating loss
Brushing of concerns through thinking "it could be worse"
Alternatives to Toxic Positivity
According to Kirkland, true positivity is about more than just internal emotions - it’s affected by our relationship with ourselves and others, as well as our relationship to our community and the world around us.
"Some people think being happy or being a happy person means you don’t feel bad, but that’s silly: We all have a full emotional life. There’s more to happiness than feeling good all the time."
Here are some examples on how to cultivate true positivity in your life:
Practice mindfulness as it is the first step toward living a full, emotional life.
Recognise that emotions are functional tools with purpose.
Clarify your purpose by reinstating your intention for conversation with other people.
Let yourself feel your true feelings and emotions, as your negative feelings won't go away until you fully deal with them.