What is toxic positivity? Have you been hearing this phrase lately? I sure have and I think it’s crucial that you understand what it means.
Toxic positivity is the concept that being overly positive, optimistic and encouraging can actually be hurtful! When life is difficult and the Susie Sunshine in your life comes at you with the cliche’s “there is always a silver lining” or “Chin up, buttercup! Tomorrow’s a new day” you might notice an urge to punch her square in the jaw…but why is that? Furthermore, you were taught in childhood that Susie is right and that if you could only swallow your feelings and put a smile on your face, that it would all be ok!
What is happening in this scenario is that Susie strolled on by and your distress made her uncomfortable. She, doing what she was taught in childhood, tries to “fix” the situation by insisting you feel better. This is INVALIDATING (which means that she is giving you the message that your interpretation and emotions are wrong). When you did what you were taught and thought “she’s right, I should suck it up…other people have it worse”, you invalidated yourself which compounds the situation.
I have no problem, and in fact I do encourage people at times to use self-encouragement and positive self talk to overcome difficulties. Is that hypocritical? No! And here’s why: It all comes down to intention, mindfulness and comfort with pain.
- What is the intention of the positive statement? Is it to shut down your (or someone else’s) emotions? That would be toxic positivity. Is it to try and jazz yourself up to overcome or battle a situation that you (or they)’re feeling nervous about? That would be self-encouragement!
- Are you making the choice to speak mindfully or mindlessly? If the words just fly out of your mouth without stopping to check in with yourself on the purpose, it is likely going to be an invalidating statement. If you stop and think “What would I want to hear in this situation? Do my feelings (or their feelings) makes sense?” it’s likely going to be a more effective comment.
- Pain is a normal part of life. Pain will happen (emotional and physical). We need to get comfortable being around ourselves and others when they are in pain! It’s on to sit with someone (or yourself) in a painful situation and just be in it. It’s actually helpful to call out what you see “This situation is difficult” or “that was a painful experience” without trying to swoop in and be the fixer!
So what to do instead of offering toxic positivity? Here’s your equation: offer validation and zip it. That’s all! Validation means that you communicate to them (or to yourself) that the feelings make sense. You can always ask the person if they would like help problem solving the scenario …but you need to be open to them saying no.