The Terror of Toxic Positivity

To hell with “Good vibes only!”

Stewart Dunn
Feb 13 · 3 min read
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

You’re not okay? That’s okay. A world of “good vibes only!” doesn’t seem to be a good solution for our current times.

According to WHO, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, with more than 300 million people suffering from depression. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15–29 year olds globally. Let’s imagine the effects toxic positivity can have on any individual.

Toxic positivity is the push for a mental state in which we only experience and show “positive” emotions. We see this push in books, quotes, social media, and everyday conversations. It has become all of our jobs to paint a picture of positivity for ourselves and the outside world. When we are alone, though, true feelings come through…and they’re not always the preferred ones. The struggle between our real emotions and our projected ones can lead to suffering.

“Life’s beauty is inseparable from its fragility.” Susan David

The only certain aspect of emotions is their uncertainty. Yet, we push positivity on ourselves and others like it’s a pyramid scheme or line of skincare. In line with society’s rules, we’ve classified emotions into ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Our aim is to live a life full of the ‘good’ without recognizing the benefits and learning associated with the ‘bad’ emotions.

“Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.” Susan David

We are taught to feel wrong if we experience ‘bad’ emotions. When we feel this guilt, we seek to find solutions or fixes to change the emotion(s) as soon as possible. This adds to a growing cycle of shame. The feeling of disconnection exists as we tell ourselves, “I’m not _____ enough” (happy, positive, calm, whatever). Also, how successful is the old suppression method? When we push emotions aside and don’t give them the attention and reflection they deserve, we feed and amplify them. The bottle can only hold so much before it explodes, and when it does, it hurts us and those around us.

When we paint over our true emotions we make it difficult to create and foster honest, open relationships. We show one side to a friend and then when we need or want them to be there for us and they are not, we become upset or feel hurt. We expect them to see behind a closed door.

Encourage yourself and others to be honest in defining how we are feeling. Vocabulary expansion in relation to our emotions would be beneficial as it would make it clearer for those wanting to help us and clearer for ourselves when we try to decide how to act or think of a response. For example, try to explain better than, “I feel sad.” If you can, dig deeper within to identify a more specific feeling, as well as an explanation behind the emotion.

Acknowledgement of the truth allows us to consciously choose a response (as opposed to acting excited when we really feel sad) and will increase our resilience and overall happiness. We have a clearer image of our realities and the realities of those around us. It’s okay to feel bad; it’s healthy, normal and beneficial to ourselves and our world.

Some of us live in a period of wait; waiting for permission to acknowledge pain, to experience grief more openly. The decision of emotional courage is yours to take. To help someone, though, ask them precisely and clearly what they need. Don’t make assumptions and don’t apply your personal fixes to them.

Don’t force positivity on yourself or others. Work on validating all emotions. When we do, we increase our ability to to constructively deal with situations as they are, in a way we truly are.

A positivity veil is a hindrance in the progress toward a more conscious world. Denial of emotions keeps you at a surface level of personal understanding. Emotions need attention.

Attention does not mean that you start thinking about it. It means to just observe the emotion, to feel it fully, and so to acknowledge and accept it as it is…Attention is the key to transformation. -E. Tolle

The Post-Grad Survival Guide

Stewart Dunn

Written by

A Kentucky girl living the tropical life in Central America. A teacher and student. Living with semi-reckless abandonment.

The Post-Grad Survival Guide

We're confused twenty-somethings. We dish on our post-grad blues, successes, failures, and everyday life right here. Featuring topics related to work, relationships, travel, finances, and so much more.

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