‘Positive vibes only‘, ‘Focus on the good’, ‘Happy thoughts are the key to a happy life’, these are some of the most common statements that we hear when we try to open up about our vulnerable feelings. But how true are they? Sometimes we hear these statements from others and sometimes we tell these to ourselves. This is what toxic positivity is, focusing only on the positive emotions and neglecting the negative emotions.
We spoke to Mahika Solanki, Mental Health Advocate & Writer at The Mood Space; and Vidhi Tamboli, Co-founder & Counseling Psychologist at The Mood Space to understand more about the ways toxic positivity can be harmful to our mental health and here’s what they had to say:
1. Leads To The Suppression Of Emotions
We, as humans, are a ying-yang of both positive and negative emotions that make us whole. Ignoring negative emotions can lead to them bottling up and presenting themselves in unhealthy ways. Focussing on feeling only positive all the time can be harmful for your mental health.
To explain this in an easier way, here’s an example—Imagine you’re the head of a round table meeting where on one side your ‘positive’ emotions like joy, love, affection, gratitude, pride, hope and inspiration are seated while on the other side, your ‘sad’ emotions like grief, anger, frustration, stress, anxiety, disgust, loneliness and annoyance are seated. While both these sides are talking, if you pay attention to only the positive sides, naturally the negative side will raise its voice to be heard and create chaos, right?
2. Affects Your State Of Balance
We can’t choose the emotions we want to feel. Neither can we eliminate the emotions we don’t want to feel because we as humans are bound to feel a variety of emotions triggered by different situations. A little bit of both positive and negative emotions are required to lead a balanced life.
For example, due to the anxiety about the pandemic, people wear masks which leads to a positive result—their safety. In the absence of the little anxiety, they might not have taken the efforts to do so and would continue roaming without any precautions.
3. Prevents You From Feeling Things In Their True Essence
Toxic positivity prevents a person from feeling a full range of emotions and discourages their expression. Rather than sitting with the not-so-good feelings non-judgementally and allowing them to pass, we tend to judge ourselves for feeling a certain way and end up feeling worse. Apart from that, we diminish the chance to help ourselves to feel better because we’re too busy trying to ignore these feelings even though expressing them would make us feel lighter and better.
4. Invalidates Your Emotions & Minimises Your Experience
A lot of people think that they’re preaching positivity but in reality, they’re preaching toxic positivity. For example, saying ‘happiness is a choice’ may invalidate a person’s struggle to feel better because it may lead them to think that they’re not ‘choosing’ happiness, that even in the face of struggle, they’re doing something wrong. These phrases are often said with good intentions but don’t really help a person facing a tough situation.
A person confiding in you with their concerns might be doing so due to the need for support, love or relief. But statements like, “It’s not as bad as it seems” may make them feel that what they’re feeling is unacceptable. When in reality, instead of the shame, they want to know that what they’re feeling is valid.
5. Prevents Growth
The idea behind toxic positivity is to not pay heed to negative emotions or emotions that may be painful. But wouldn’t it also discourage us to face challenging situations and in turn, prevent us from learning from them and growing?
Undeniably, there are many benefits of thinking positive. It enables us to release stress, leads to better immunity, builds resilience and helps you thrive but that doesn’t mean that you look at everything from rose coloured glasses. Adversity requires you to think practically and not under the influence of blind positivity, i.e. toxic positivity.
How To Avoid Toxic Positivity
1. Learn To Deal With All Kinds Of Emotions, Instead Of Avoiding Them
Throughout your life, you will face both pleasant and unpleasant emotions no matter how much you try to negate the latter. But if you learn to cope with them, you’ll feel better and balanced!
2. Replace The ‘I Should Feel…’ With ‘It’s Okay If…’
The truth is, you are feeling unpleasant and you are feeling low. Validate your emotions by reassuring yourself that it’s okay to feel the way you’re feeling, that your feelings are real, valid and important.
3. Don’t Judge Yourself Or Others For Feeling Challenging Emotions
We are all humans who come into the world with our own set of emotions. Instead of avoiding difficult emotions, give yourself permission to feel all the feelings. There aren’t ‘good’ or ‘bad’ emotions, there are good and bad ways to deal with them.
Once you accept the way you’re really feeling, only then you can work your way around it, right? You can’t heal what you don’t know exists. You may feel differently about certain emotions than others and that’s okay. Everyone is entitled to their own feelings and nobody deserves to get shamed for that. It’s very important to know that not everyone copes with situations as you do.
4. It’s Okay To Not Be Okay
Being realistic, you cannot feel good all the time and that’s only natural. Sometimes instead of analysing our emotions and acting on each one of them, learning to just sit with ourselves and supporting ourselves until the feeling passes can work wonders!
5. Recognise Messages That Encourage Toxic Positivity & Don’t Engage With Them
Social media is one of the most common mediums for toxic positivity to spread. People only show their ‘perfect’ or ‘positive side’ and it’s important to remind oneself that all that we see, may not be real. Remember that you aren’t alone in what you feel. We all have our own share of positives and negatives.
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