Optimism is a wonderful tool to have in your repertoire. Sometimes we need to see the silver lining during a bad day, bad month, or even a bad year (looking at you, 2020!). There’s a dark twin to optimism, though, and her name is toxic positivity. She’s got overly bleached extensions and teeth and wears a generic cheerleading outfit, cheering you on. That may not sound so bad, right? But it can be!
Toxic positivity is the belief that no matter how dire or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset. It’s a “good vibes only” approach to life. While there are loads of benefits to being an optimist, toxic positivity completely ignores our more complex feelings in favor of constant happiness. That approach can prevent us from processing difficult emotions. Here’s the issue: Life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. There are a lot of storms and rain.
Toxic positivity can shame us for natural emotions and reactions to circumstances.
So, that begs the question: How do we remove toxic positivity from our lives?
Here are a few steps:
- Acknowledge your difficult feelings instead of ignoring them. When we push those feelings down and ignore their existence, it can bring us unneeded stress and anxiety.
- Monitor your social media. Following inspirational accounts is great, but heed your feelings afterward. If you feel guilty or shame about not measuring up, consider muting or unfollowing such accounts.
- Take your platitudes and toss them overboard! When experiencing a negative feeling, the last thing we need to hear is the bleached cheerleader spouting Rachel Hollis-esque quotes. Sometimes we need to do more than wash our face.
- Have conflicting emotions? Perfectly natural.
- Allow yourself to feel how you need to feel.
What if you’re unsure what toxic positivity sounds like?
Here’s the difference between what a positive and toxic statement might look like:
- Stay positive!
- Good vibes only; no negative vibes in my space.
- Other people have it worse than you.
- The Universe made this happen for a reason!
- I can’t fail.
- A happy attitude is a choice you make every day.
- I hear you.
- I’m not going anywhere.
- That must be really difficult.
- Bad things happen sometimes, so how can we work on this together?
- Your emotions and experiences are valid.
Let’s be real: Sometimes, we fail. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. And sometimes we have depression or anxiety or other mental health conditions that make “choosing happiness” extremely difficult, if not impossible. Telling our toxic cheerleader she’s no longer welcome at the table might be hard. However, life is so much more authentic when we experience all of it. The darkness and the light.