Positivity itself is not toxic. It’s when you look on the bright side of events. But toxicity creeps in when, rather than just raise an optimistic mindset, you go beyond that. You pass hopefulness, wave a cheery farewell, and stick a veil over your perception. You strain so hard to be positive that reality passes you by, and you coat events with a shiny, feel-good gloss.
Even when they stink.
I prefer to call toxic positivity ‘head in the sand syndrome’ because it involves ignoring legitimacy. And that’s when it starts. Your pal wants everything to be sunny, and they know it feels better to seek joy than wallow in depression. So, they do their utmost to paint events with joy.
Some events, however, are not joyful. They are painful, horrific, or downright annoying. And when your positive pal tells you catastrophes are liberating or wonderful, you’re bound to frown (if you don’t experience a far worse reaction).
Toxic positivity is unhealthy in any situation. It has drawbacks. But it’s particularly bad for your relationships. I have a friend who, upon hearing someone they knew was terminally ill said “he’ll enjoy time to himself now he doesn’t need to go to the office.”
Compassion would have been more appropriate. Not a celebratory response. But she wanted to be positive. Her retort has ostracized her from the person she conversed with (go figure) because it belittled the situation. When you fall into the trap of toxic positivity, you become an alien to reality and your pals.
I know someone else who exclaims “wonderful” upon hearing about her friend’s problems. Not because she tries to make them okay, but because negative news doesn’t register in her brain anymore. She says negativity is not in her vocabulary, since it’s bad for her, and she’s inadvertently blocked her ears to unsettling events.
Whether you tell her the car’s broken down, your cat died, or there’s been an earthquake, she says “wonderful!” And there’s no point having a conversation about anything other than good news with her now. I guess she got her way. But we can’t have a normal conversation anymore.
Most people with ‘head in the sand syndrome’ don’t use such severe feel-good tactics to help them remain positive. But toxicity still runs deep. Saying something like “it could be worse,” to a friend who has lost their job invalidates their feelings. It shuts them down and stuffs their pain right back inside them, when they need a supportive shoulder to cry on or helpful advice.
It’s painful to be in the presence of someone who looks as though they hear your problem, but acts as though it’s nothing. When your feelings are validated, on the other hand, you gain emotional support. You stop imagining you are alone, or bonkers to feel as you do.
Validation’s a form of emotional holding. It’s like someone putting their arms around you as you cry. If you got the message you were wrong to be upset via invalidation, you might swallow your tears and pain would build.
Toxic positivity involves a skewed perspective
Friends who are overly positive don’t admit to seeing events the way everybody else sees them. Often, they pointblank refuse to accept what you say, and feel, and hijack conversations. To maintain toxic levels of optimism, they must steer all communication so it slants favorably.
So, discussions aren’t on a level footing. The individual with their head sand-ward is at the helm. The result is frustration for anyone other than themselves. But don’t imagine they don’t suffer too.
How toxic positivity affects the person who shells it out
Only highly sensitive people reach toxic levels of positivity. Their aim is to baton down the hatches and throw away the key to painful emotions. But they aren’t safe in the fortress behind which they dwell. To get there, and stay there, they stop acknowledging their own feelings, not just those of their friends and family.
The descent isn’t instant, either. Throwing off the shackles of reality is a gradual process. To do so, you must deny painful emotions when they rise. You beat them back down inside your gullet with a figurative shovel.
We now know that to deny your feelings, whether physical or mental, doesn’t heal them. It makes them worse. Toxic positivity takes the idea of keeping a stiff upper lip a step closer to insanity because you create a sunny alter ego.
Once the alternative you is in place, you need not show up much anymore. The other you runs the show, while you remain crouched in your castle.
If the real you forgets to take shelter, and emotional discomfort flows, you must get that shovel out and chastise yourself with commanding corrections that invalidate your essence.
Toxic positivity, for you, is like being a newbie in a cruel dictatorship. Far from making you feel good, your alter ego thumps you into submission. It’s a criminally negligent parent who rules over you under the guise of a helping hand.
Friend shaming’s another negative consequence of toxic positivity. Just as you belittle yourself for having less than joyful emotions, you drag your pals down with the same harsh parenting methods.
I know someone who corrects everyone she converses with when they speak negativity. She shames them (gets out the verbal shovel) and supplies alternative phrases for them to use.
“You didn’t have a bad day. You met a challenge you can overcome.”
This alternative wording might not sound too bad at first. Unless you’re on the receiving end. If you’re exhausted, your boss screamed at you, and you are close to tears, you did, indeed, have a terrible day.
When that shovel hangs over your head, you don’t think, what a terrific idea. I’ll change my words to make events sound better. Rather, you imagine you have no right to feel as you do. The message is you are ignorant and foolish. Then again, you might want to throttle your pal for crimes against common sense and lack of understanding. Either way, the friendship’s screwed.
The next time a pal insists you emit positive vibes, but you don’t feel like it, it’s wise to burst their bubble. Get them to lower the shovel. Tell them it’s all right to experience the full spectrum of emotions. They might disagree. But you need not join them in their fortress.
Why It’s More Realistic to Aim for Balance Than Happiness
The truth is, we’re not meant to be happy every second of the day
The Best Way to Help Anyone is to Work on Yourself
When we understand we have monsters, and so does everybody else, we can get ready to greet them
How to Deal with Anxiety in Difficult Times
It’s possible to manage fearfulness and instill calm
Copyright © 2020 Bridget Webber. All rights reserved