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Toxic Positivity

There are many benefits of social media and technology, including increased access to information, increased connection with people around the world, and increased opportunities to pursue varied interests. However, as with anything created, there are drawbacks as well as the positives. With increased social media and technological use, people are being conditioned to the idea that everything happens quickly as well as the false belief that people are always happy and always have it together because of highlight reels.

What is Toxic Positivity

If you spend a lot of time on any social media platform, you’ll notice the projection of ongoing happiness and positive moods. I utilize the word happiness instead of joy because happiness is situational and external while joy is intrinsic and longer-lasting. The rise of social media has created the belief that people must always be happy, always be on, and always display positivity.

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with building a positive mindset and displaying positivity, we are at the point where people no longer seem to know how to manage their emotions when they no longer deem them happy and positive. Yet, to be human is to experience emotions. Our emotional responses are how we process the world around us.

Emotions are signals to us and they indicate to us when our needs are not being met. If we solely rely on what we deem as positive emotions, we miss the cues our other emotions attempt to show us, and by extension, we reduce our self-efficacy, our self-confidence, and our overall functioning. Over a period of time, our emotional states will begin to deteriorate because our emotional needs are not being met.

Toxic positivity develops when we begin to reject or ignore (whether consciously or unconsciously) our other emotions in order to maintain a positive mindset and practice and display positivity. Over time, we become disconnected from our own emotions and experience difficulty when trying to understand others and their emotions. Some people may even experience shame, guilt, embarrassment, or resentment when experiencing other emotions outside of happiness and positivity.

Optimism vs Toxic Positivity

Of course, there is nothing wrong with maintaining optimism in the face of adversity or difficulties. Optimism, as defined by Dictionary.com, is “the tendency to expect the best and see the best in all things.” Optimism may be viewed as a way of coping, by expecting things to work itself out, and by encouraging yourself to not give up.

Toxic positivity refuses to acknowledge any other emotional state but happiness/positivity. Toxic positivity encourages you to build a false self and to ignore the reality of what is happening to you as well as what you are feeling about your experiences. Toxic positivity creates negative cycles by causing feelings of shame, guilt, doubt, hurt, embarrassment when individuals are unable to maintain the happy/positive outward display. Toxic positivity perpetuates an inauthentic self, builds avoidance and procrastination, and undermines true self-confidence.

Signs of Toxic Positivity

If you think back over your childhood, you may find many experiences where you were encouraged to ignore your true feelings. The reality is that life is hard and we experience many difficult things that threaten to overwhelm us and hurt us. Our emotions demonstrate to us where we need to give that extra TLC to ourselves. When we ignore what we’re truly feeling, we become destructive to ourselves. Examples of toxic positivity may sound like the below.

When people tell us that:

  • Boys (men) don’t cry
  • Pray more
  • Children should be seen and not heard

Here are some other signs of toxic positivity:

  • Inability to experience true joy and/or pleasure
  • Feeling emotionally shutdown
  • Feeling stuck
  • Feeling disconnected from others
  • Believing that you can only feel one emotion at a time
  • Being stuck in the past or how things used to be
  • Becoming increasingly anxious about the future
  • Avoiding dealing with difficult situations

Healing from Toxic Positivity

I encourage you to allow yourself to feel all your emotions. Emotions are so important to our lives. I do agree that we do need to learn to control them, however, they are important signals to us. When we learn to effectively read our emotional signals, and then care for them, we’ll find that they are not as much of a burden as we may have first thought.

Caring for our emotions helps us transition from surviving to thriving. Feeling our emotions opens up the world to us. Caring for our emotions improves our self-esteem and overall functioning because we are meeting our needs, loving ourselves, and replenishing ourselves. This helps us to live fuller and more abundant lives.

Photocred: Stan B/Unsplash.com

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