Toxic positivity is the endless disregard of emotions and feeling you don’t regard as positive.
- Your feelings are real and should be acknowledged
- Positivity in itself is not a bad thing
- Good and bad are labels you put on your feelings
In a world where there’s so much pressure to always be “on”, it can be overwhelming when feelings arise that may not align with the feelings we wish we had. Everyone likes being positive. It feels good to have a good outlook on life, positive views of the jobs we hold, good thoughts about our relationships no matter with whom they are.
But things happen. Especially in a time of pandemic, civil unrest, market volatility, a lot of things can happen. What does it mean for you? If your reaction to everything is to plaster a smile on your face and say, “this is fine”? It might mean you aren’t willing to feel the tough spots in your life. And sometimes that means that you may not even be feeling your true joy completely.
Positive And Negative
“Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” says Shakespeare’s Hamlet character, and while it can be argued that there are some absolutes, there is much nuance available, especially in the area of emotional health. One person couldn’t bear to be home with kids, the other adores it. One person couldn’t imagine commuting two and a half hours every day for work, and some think it an excellent time to get writing or phone calls done without distraction.
Before you label a feeling “bad” and shove it away forever, try letting yourself feel it. The train is late on your morning commute. It annoys you. Let it annoy you, and then let it go. If you tamp it down and try to bury it under feeling that it’s fine, you end up holding onto the annoyance longer than if you’d just acknowledged and released it.
If you find that you’re consumed with frustration and thoughts you label as negative, but then you paste a smile on and pretend you don’t feel them, you are likely not letting yourself feel anything fully, even the fun parts of life and the joy. If you find it stifling, try letting feelings exist without judging them.
Releasing Toxic Positivity
Fully feeling what you feel sounds easy, but can be a difficult task. If you’re busying yourself being toxic all the time, telling others that “there are so many people who have it worse” and “get over it,” who are you really helping? Will the recipient of that advice, whether it’s yourself or another, be helped? There is such a thing as wallowing in sorrow and self-pity, but if that’s not what’s happening, and honestly, even if it is, those are the sort of statements that may not make a great deal of difference.
What can help, when you feel like your emotional health is suffering, is looking to those who have lead the way before you. Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages get everything out of your mind before (or after) you’ve even had your coffee. Whatever emotional complexities you are experiencing can be gotten out onto the page, with ease (or with difficulty, as the case may be).
Meditation is another way to get your mind calm, and face your emotional state without judging it. While Morning Pages are a more active form of meditation, you can try simply being in meditation. Quieting your mind for any length of time is a gift you give yourself, but if it’s noisy in there and all you can do is have a smoldering feeling of anger at the car that cut you off in the school pickup line, take your time and allow yourself to fully feel that anger. And then let it go.
Toxic Positivity And You
Once you can identify those thoughts that are truly positive, and helpful, you can let yourself fully feel that as well. Enjoying the good that your life has to offer is the best way to treat yourself, as it puts you in a state of gratitude and appreciation. If you can approach most things with that sort of mindset, you will find the whole world a much more pleasant place to be. If you’re having trouble finding the positive in life, and there’s a lot going on in the world right now, consider asking for help, or seeing someone who may be able to help your mental health achieve what you want.
Know that while it does get better, and there are others who have it worse off than you, it doesn’t in any way negate your own feelings. Own them, let them go, and move through the world granting yourself some grace.