Toxic positivity is the idea that one should only focus on positive emotions and avoid any negative emotions or experiences.
Mindfulness and Positive Psychology teach us
To experience life in the here and now, and allow all feelings, thoughts, emotions, and sensations to be present. When we experience a negative feeling or thought, we should not automatically push it away, or “see” it as “negative”, and try to jump to a solution to fix it, nor immediately replace it with a positive. Instead, it is healthy to embrace all experiences of life (positive or negative), and experience the world as it is, not as how we wish it to be (picture perfect, sunshine and rainbows).
It’s not good vs. bad
Positive experiences don’t necessarily mean they are good, vs negative experiences seen as bad. How can normal and natural emotions or experiences be labelled as “bad”. Doing this, can contribute to us associating negative emotions (which are normal to life) with guilt, shame or that we have done something wrong. Therefore, hiding our experiences from others or ourselves, and not fully embracing all that life provides.
It is a harmful mindset that invalidates and suppresses natural human emotions, leading to emotional distress, burnout, and even depression. It is essential to recognize that everyone experiences negative emotions at some point in life, and it is normal to feel sad, anxious, angry, or frustrated.
Toxic positivity is when the concept of Positive Psychology or Positivity is misunderstood. It is perceived that negative emotions, thoughts, sensations or feelings are viewed as bad and we should always be positive and replace what we are experiencing with a positive emotion or thought.
Avoiding toxic positivity
Validate your emotions
Acknowledge your feelings, whether they are positive or negative. Accepting your emotions allows you to process and deal with them in a healthy way.
Example: Resist the urge to tell yourself or someone else “just be positive”, or “cheer up,”. Instead, recognise your emotions, allow them to exist, and offer yourself self-compassion and kindness.
Show empathy towards others by actively listening and acknowledging their emotions without trying to change them. Avoid telling someone to “just be positive” or “look on the bright side.” Don’t forget to apply this to yourself too, we can often be very harsh on ourselves, and we want to quickly “snap out of it” and move on, offering ourselves very little self-compassion.
Example: If someone is going through a tough time, you can put yourself in their shoes and offer support by saying something like, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but I’m here for you if you need anything.”
Avoid invalidating emotions
Avoid using language that dismisses or trivializes someone’s emotions, such as “don’t worry about it”, or “snap out of it, it will be ok”, or “just cheer up.” Instead, offer support and let them know that their feelings are valid. Again, don’t forget to apply this to yourself. Negative self-talk can be very damaging.
Focus on balance
While positivity can be helpful, it is not always necessary or healthy to maintain a positive outlook all the time. It’s essential to balance positive and negative emotions and allow yourself to experience the full range of human emotions.
If you’re struggling with toxic positivity, consider reaching out to a professional for help. They can provide tools and strategies to manage negative emotions and promote emotional well-being.
Create a safe space
Create an environment where people can express their emotions freely without fear of judgment. Encourage open and honest communication and listen without judgment.
Example: If someone is struggling with mental health issues, you can create a safe space where they feel comfortable talking about their feelings without fear of judgment. You can offer your support and let them know that they can talk to you whenever they need to.