I really do not know the term until I gave a webinar one time and someone asked me what I think about it. I had to honestly ask what it meant so I can comment on it.
And I learned that toxic positivity is faking happiness. You can get it from well-meaning friends or family members from time to time. It’s when you force yourself to be happy in the midst of a bad situation or trying to make someone happy even when they are struggling.
It’s when people tell you things like, “Just cheer up!” or “Don’t worry, it will be over soon”,and “It’s over, move on…” and many other variations of dismissing the negativity that you feel.
We are all guiltyof this in one form or another. But we wonder, “How can being positive be possibly toxic?”
When positivity is meant only to cover if not erase the negativity that we feel, it becomes toxic. But what is so wrong with covering our true feelings?
Anything covered will eventually find a way out, in many forms. This is very true to negative emotions. Think of boiling water. If the steam is not diffused, it will blowup the lid or cover, because the strong energy contained inside needed a release.
When we superimpose our sadness, anger, or frustration with “positivity” always, it will come out and manifest in many forms which can be more psychologically dangerous to the individual.
But does it mean that we should express always our negative emotions the way that it is? The answer is we need to Feel our emotions the way that it is and Express them appropriately. The key is to recognize our negative emotions and not drown them always in positivity.
When we tell someone who just lost a job, “Oh it’s okay. Everything happens for a reason”, or, “Well, better be thankful, you still have a job”, we may not be helping at all because the real message that we put across is that, “Yeah, what you feel now is not valid, they are unimportant.” In effect, this will make the person feel not heard.
And for the most part, the people who imbue you with positivity are actually the one’s who will leave you during the bad times. They will cheer you up, cajole you, but may not really be willing to go through with you in your ordeal. On the other hand, a real friend respects your feelings and is there to feel with you, and yes, cheer you up.
Social media is awashed with toxic positivity. That is why it is not good to always rant or vent your anger online. It may not be addressed well. It is still better to get a loving friend who can listen to you sincerely.
When you force yourself to smile, forget about your problems, even in a difficult time, that is toxic and can be more lethal. We know of friends whom we thought were okay because of a sunny façade but get so shocked when we learned that they drowned themselves with booze or drugs, or worst, committed suicide.
There’s nothing wrong with not being “okay” from time to time. Our sadness, anger, frustration, or distress are valid feelings we ought to experience and live with because they are what makes us human beings. We may not like them because they are difficult to deal with, but feel them we must because in them and through them, we even appreciate more our aliveness and vibrancy.
And so, the next time you feel bad, stay with it. Give yourself sometime to recognize and feel the feeling. Trust that you can endure and then gradually find a way to cope appropriately. You can pause and reflect, do exercise, pray, or talk to a trusted friend who will validate how you feel.
Do not be a source of fake positivity. Practice sensitivity. Do not invalidate or dismiss the feelings by immediately offering solutions. Take time to listen empathically. You will see that there is more to discover than what is in the surface.