Toxic positivity is not a phrase many of us are used to hearing. Isn’t positivity, well, positive? Some of the time yes, and some of the time no. To better understand, it’s important to know the definition of toxic positivity. “Toxic positivity is the idea that we should focus only on positive emotions and the positive aspects of life. It’s the belief that if we ignore difficult emotions and the parts of our life that aren’t working as well, we’ll be much happier.” While this may sound ideal, it’s not realistic and can invalidate the inevitable negative feelings that are a part of living a full life.
So, how does toxic positivity show up in the day-to-day? Frequently, when people are attempting to make someone feel better, phrases such as “it’s going to be okay”, “it’ll get better with time”, or “just stay optimistic”, are used. While these comments can be nice, if you’re going through a difficult period of time, the excess positivity can end up being negative. While these comments are meant to be encouraging by looking towards the future, they actually invalidate the emotions you’re feeling in the present. By only focusing on positive emotions, we can actual discourage people from sharing their negative feelings leading to individuals internalizing their struggles. In turn, this can cause an increase of stress and anxiety on the mind and body. Ignoring negative feelings doesn’t make them go away, if anything, it can make them worse.
Now that we know what toxic positivity is, and why pushing positivity isn’t always the best way to address a difficult time or experience, it’s important to discuss more effective ways to combat these times. A good place to start is simply giving yourself permission to feel all the feels. Whether positive or negative emotions, one is not more valid than another. We’re capable of experiencing many emotions at the same time and that is okay. Maintaining perspective and leaning into both positive and negative emotions can be incredibly helpful. There is room to be grateful for what you have, while also acknowledging the stress or anxiety you may be feeling.
A great way to zone in on specific aspects of anxiety or other negative emotions is through journaling. Often times our minds start spinning when we feel there’s a lot to keep track of or work through. By writing things down or journaling, we take the pressure off of our minds and onto the paper. “By writing down those fears and anxieties, even if we can’t do anything about them, we’ve told our brains that it’s OK to let them go because they’re being taken care of.” Seeing things written down in front of you can offer perspective we’re not able to have just in our minds.
After taking time to explore the causes behind negative emotions you may be feelings, set aside time for some extra self-care. Toxic positivity doesn’t offer any advice for how to actually manage negative emotions. Engaging in self-care, however that may look for you, is an excellent way to give yourself permission to feel and move through the emotions that come up. Whether it’s getting more sleep, exercising, pampering yourself, starting a new project/activity, binging a tv series, or speaking with a therapist, we all take care of ourselves in different ways and that’s okay. The important thing is, we’re listening to our minds and bodies, and are taking the time to nourish ourselves with what is needed.
If you’ve found yourself struggling throughout this uncertain and pressured time, it may be useful to try counseling. Contact Symmetry Counseling at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment for online counseling in Chicago with one of our very skilled therapists today!