How often have you seen the word toxic and positivity alongside one another? In a world where the narrative of “positivity is key” or “just stay positive” we are constantly force fed the idea that we must remain in a positive mindset, but where does this leave room for the reality of all the other emotions we absolutely must experience and work through as part of a relatively normal emotional experience and a normal life.
In this blog post I am going to address some of the most common questions I have been asked on toxic positivity and hopefully it simplifies what toxic positivity is and communicates a good understanding of the topic.
Can positivity be a good thing? Well you absolutely already know the answer to that, yes. You may even think that was a stupid question.
However - on the other hand, can positivity be a bad thing?, well… again, here the answer is yes, it absolutely can be. To some people this may not come as a shock but to others it may completely surprise you and you may even be challenged by the fact that positivity when viewed incorrectly and lived out in an unhealthy fashion can in fact; be quite toxic.
So what is toxic positivity? - Toxic positivity is essentially an unhealthy view of and an often even unhealthy obsession with positivity. Often toxic positivity will involve holding a belief that people should have a “positive” view on all situations and circumstances, even events which are quite tragic in nature.
What are the effects or risks of toxic positivity? - Toxic positivity generally tends to overlook and often even silence negative emotions and moves towards a “fake it til’ you make it” style model despite the fact in some cases a person may really be struggling and need to be supported and understood in the reality of exactly where they are currently at and what they are facing.
What are the risks of not acknowledging negative emotions and choosing to try be positive instead? - I understand the idea of focussing on negative emotions for some may seem counterproductive but what often happens when emotions are ignored or unaddressed is that they become suppressed and a person may even detach from the emotion completely focussing attention elsewhere. What often happens when we suppress and detach is that eventually the emotion still needs to be dealt with and ignoring these emotions and putting it on the long finger can in many cases lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, hopelessness etc.
What are some of the most common causes of toxic positivity? - One of the most common causes of toxic positivity, I believe is societal pressures and societal “norms”. In today’s society there is an unspoken or often unacknowledged expectation to conform. With social media usage being at all an time high and usage rapidly increasing, “influencers” and those who hold influence in online spaces all too often claim to be encouraging a healthy mindset without even realising some of their own biases and behaviours are consistently and significantly contributing to the narrative which feeds and drives toxic positivity. Being able to discern what is good hearted encouragement versus toxic positivity will be an essential skill in not becoming affected within an online space and in society today in general. Amongst other causes of toxic positivity I would say are: lack of awareness, lack of education and the narrative needing to change around positivity in general.
How can I identify toxic positivity? - Once you get an understanding of what toxic positivity actually is, it may not be that difficult to spot when you encounter it. Ultimately, the main characteristics of toxic positivity would be the theory of positive thinking being the only solution to problems being imposed upon you and others and the expectation or often even demand that negative thoughts or the expression of negative thoughts be ignored and eradicated.
What is the difference between toxic positivity and just general positive thinking? - In terms of up to date research, I would believe positive thinking will consist of healthily tapping into an optimistic outlook when experiencing problems but not ignoring the reality of the situation and further addressing the reality of the situation whilst holding an optimistic and hopeful outlook. On the other hand we have toxic positivity - toxic positivity will look to silence all emotions other than positive emotions and try to often take an overly irrational positive stance when faced with problems ultimately leading to feelings of hopelessness and feeling guilty or “bad” for experiencing negative emotions.
Is it ok for me to feel negative and have negative thoughts? - As part of the human experience we will inevitably feel a wide range of emotions (including negative emotions) and there is no way of stopping this even if people try to convince you that there is. One of the most common emotions we are told is predominantly “bad” is anger. While in certain cases the behavioural manifestations of anger can often lead to violence which yes is bad, in a lot of cases this isn’t true and anger as a stand-alone emotion is perfectly normal and in fact part of a healthy emotional life. In fact talking about emotions instead of ignoring them and being “positive” can help prevent negative behavioural responses such as violence etc and research suggests talking about these emotions can help process them better and bring about much better and more appropriate results.
Is it ok to feel negative emotions? Absolutely. They are part of a normal emotional experience.
Naturally when we experience any emotion consistently such as sadness or anxiety this can bring great discomfort or affect our day to day functioning. If this is the case for you please know that help is available and emotional regulation is extremely possible with the correct help and support. You can find that support here on our website, click here to make an appointment to see one of our mental health professionals either online or in person at one of our Limerick offices.
I do hope this blog has given you some insight into toxic positivity, if you have any questions about the topic or anything else mental health related feel free to send me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org