toxic positivity

Toxic positivity

I’m not a negative person. I really am not. I’m someone who normally prepares for the worst because if the outcome is slightly more positive then there’s more the reason to be happy about it. I’m a pragmatist. I’m a realist. My two feet are always firmly on the ground. This however doesn’t make my outlook on life negative. I take time to smell the flowers, feel the wind in my hair, the sun in my face, I do that sort of stuff too and it comes to me naturally. But I also admit that it’s OK not to be OK every now and then.

A lot of people are going to disagree with what I’m going to say and that’s also OK. We’re not all wired the same way, we deal with our problems differently and what keeps someone motivated and makes them feel good may feel like a waste of time to someone else. So, here goes…

I noticed it a lot more during the last year – and it’s no coincidence that it happened to be the pandemic lockdown year – toxic positivity. 2020 was a pretty shitty year, right, and 2021 is no walk in the park for a lot of people either. A lot of people started sharing and overloading their social media feeds with positive quotes, mantras, affirmations, tips to overcome depression, how to practice gratitude etc. etc. As if to try to negate the negative feelings lots of other people may have been or still are processing. As someone who also suffered last winter for various reasons – I had to make some tough decisions in my career going forward, I found out I was pregnant, which I wasn’t exactly thrilled about (that is no longer the case, it just took my a bit longer to adjust and get excited about), I was sad about not being able to travel to the UK and see my husband’s side of the family, I felt the utter shock and grief when finding out a friend had taken his own life… – I was getting seriously sick of those overly positive quotes and suggestions. I’m sure those people meant well but I preferred to be upset and ignore the positivity for a while. I didn’t want to brush off the sadness that had overtaken me. I wanted to process it all and cry.

I didn’t experience them all myself but here are some examples of toxic positivity so you get a better idea what really annoyed me:

  • a meme telling you to just change your outlook and be happy
  • downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic by telling people to go outside, enjoy the fresh spring air, and all will be well
  • telling someone to snap out of their grief or suffering after a devastating loss
  • saying “but look on the bright side”, “be grateful for what you have”, “everything happens for a reason” or “it could be worse”
  • sharing “good vibes only” posts on social media
  • urging people to develop new skills or improve their fitness during the pandemic

I mean, the last one… I know too many parents who really suffered with working from home while home schooling their kids and then seeing those positive faces on Instagram feed showing off their new bod, that they’ve finished their 50th book that month or how they learnt a new language while in lockdown… there are too many examples. Bloody well done for leaving many other people feeling inadequate or ashamed because they just made through the day while feeling hopeless, lonely or depressed.

At their best, the above things I listed, are harmless and told by people with little empathy or just not wanting to deal with someone’s difficult emotions. At their worst, some of these positive statements come across as shaming and blaming people for not choosing to be happy.

You really don’t have to have a positive response to everything in life immediately. It’s important to recognise the intense negative emotions and deal with them first. Toxic positivity encourages people to ignore those difficult feelings, potentially even intensifying the power of them and making them feel bad about themselves for having those negative thoughts.

So, if, like me, you prefer to wallow in your own sadness for a while, allowing all the emotions to wash over you, without plastering a smile on your face and admitting that you’re having a tough time, then kudos. Don’t feel guilty. Unfollow or ignore the ones sharing daily motivational quotes if they’re not helping you. If it’s not your style, don’t beat yourself up. Somehow you’ll pull yourself through though, with or without the help of your family, friends or professionals, and you’ll know that you did it with dealing with the hard stuff first.

Share some love or hate for this post, you either agree, or disagree with it!