Breaking down toxic positivity and offering you an alternative to the mushy, inauthentic, & harmful "positive vibes only" rhetoric.
What is toxic positivity?
We hear toxic positivity all the time. In books. Pinterest quotes. Social media. And even from friends and family. Toxic positivity is saying or hearing things like:
"Look on the bright side!"
"Just be happy!"
"Good vibes only!"
Yes, it's usually coming from a good place. People generally want to be supportive and don't know how to help. But our culture's relationship to emotions makes the push for positivity incredibly insincere and harmful. Here's why:
Emotions are neither good nor bad—they just ARE. When we push positivity, what we're really saying is "you're doing something wrong for feeling a negative emotion" which is so so so harmful and only amplifies suffering.
The harms of toxic positivity.
Emotions require attention, validation, experiencing, and nurturing. And ALL of them—the positive ones and the painful ones.
So when we tell someone (or ourselves) to "just be positive," it's not actually doing any good. It's telling that emotion that it's wrong, that it needs to GTFO, and that we shouldn't be feeling that way, and therefore, are at fault or to blame feeling shitty.
Unfortunately, you just can't wish sadness, hurt, depression, or loneliness away.
We have to feel, accept, and allow in order to heal. It's the only way.
What actually helps.
Instead of forcing positivity and consequently, invalidating and further perpetuating shame, try validation and authenticity. Here are a few steps to try:
1. Name the emotion
ex. "I'm feeling lonely" (to yourself)
or "How are you feeling?" (to someone else)
2. Validate the emotion
ex. "It's normal to feel lonely sometimes. It's part of the human condition" (to yourself) or
"That makes so much sense why you feel lonely right now" (to someone else)
3. Accept and support
ex. "I'm feeling lonely and I can let this feeling be here today. It doesn't mean I am a lonely person. It's just a feeling. It will pass" (to yourself) or "Your feelings are valid and I'm here for you" (to someone else)
The takeaway is: repression and invalidation don't help anyone. Instead of insincere toxic positivity, we need validation and authentic support. I hope this blog post was helpful!
Here are some more examples
Follow me along at @joannatalksfeelings for more mental health content, or my practice @rootandrisepsychotherapy.