You may have heard of the latest trend/buzz words – Toxic Positivity. In short, it’s the generalization of happy optimistic state (sounds good) that results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience. When we disallow for certain feelings, we are actually enforcing a coping skill of denial and repression. These are the skills (in therapy) that we work on so much to change. To feel all your feelings is genuine, and to learn how to express and cope with them takes strength and insight. Sometimes life just sucks, and nobody can have positive vibes all day long.
Why not be positive all the time?
- Shame. If we constantly tell people to cover their anger, sadness, frustrations, and pain with a smile, we tell them, they’re not enough. We are saying, do not show weakness to it. You should be able to handle it. Therefore, when a person does have an experience that brings up these emotions, they judge themselves on their ability to handle it. They worry about how they will be perceived by others. This leads to secrets and denial, which undoubtedly leads to shame. It puts all the pain and pressure to handle it on one person and demonizes the idea of asking for help. Because to ask for help means that there is something wrong.
- Suppression of Emotions. Suppression of emotions can lead to a lot of physical symptoms. Stomachaches, headaches, and a weakened immune system. Suppression of emotions also tends to lead to a fake persona of ourselves. Think of a teenager who gets good grades, has a lots of friends, but self harms because of feeling so alone. Anxiety and depression rely on suppression of emotions to thrive and take hold. Living a dual life of happiness on the outside and pain on the inside is difficult, and constantly telling ourselves it’s fine and to look on the bright side keeps those difficult emotions down. The ultimate end is when those feelings consume us and become strong enough to no longer ignore.
- Isolation. When you’re suppressing your emotions, you lose more connection with yourself. It’s difficult to have a relationship with other people when you don’t allow yourself to be authentic when you’re alone. If we keep things happy and smiling at the surface, it makes it even more difficult for others to connect or relate to us. Everyone has difficulties, but if you stay talking about the weather, nobody will feel comfortable expressing anything deeper.
Check out the chart below to identify how you can avoid toxic positivity, but still reaffirm people and your own authentic self.