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The Dark Side of Positive Vibes

Photo by Kyle Cleveland on Unsplash

Like an unexpected tornado, the pandemic has upended the world and left much destruction in its wake. People have lost their jobs and grown more stressed as a result of staying at home while being in a constant state of worry. Understandably, individuals are striving to be positive in order to stay afloat during this period of uncertainty and adulting is challenging especially during this tough time as the pandemic has affected everyone. Is it possible to maintain an optimistic attitude all of the time? Can you radiate positive vibes in every situation? While there is significance in having a positive outlook in life, it is also possible to become addicted to the horrifyingly delicious elixir of clichés like, “It’s okay, it happened for a reason!”, “it could be worse” and “everything is wonderful!”. Imagine a ship attempting to sail forward but being stymied by an anchor that refuses to budge; the ship symbolises you, the anchor is your neglected negative emotions, and toxic positivity represents the force that refuses to unburden you of this weight.

Toxic positivity is the notion that individuals should keep a positive attitude no matter how terrible things are, as explained by VerywellMind. This mindset not only emphasises the significance of optimism but also diminishes and dismisses any human feeling that isn't completely cheerful or positive. Imagine this, you lost your job and people tell you, “It’s okay, it happened for a reason!” While such statements are usually meant to be sympathetic, they can also be used to silence as well as suppress whatever you might want to say about what you are going through. According to VerywellMind, emotional suppression is a type of emotional regulation approach that is used to attempt to control unpleasant, overpowering thoughts and feelings. Learning new, healthy ways to regulate one's emotions is the remedy. Other signs of toxic positivity as specified by Medical News Today, include, perceiving people who constantly look optimistic, advising someone to look for the silver lining in a tragic situation and lastly dismissing someone's worries with the phrase "it might be worse".

Oftentimes, these statements are well-intentioned, but they might wind up hurting someone's feelings rather than helping them, and learning why this is important is crucial. According to Verywell Mind, toxic positivity may be destructive to individuals as it impedes growth and helps us to escape uncomfortable sensations, but it also prevents us from confronting difficult emotions, which may lead to change and greater insights. Adding to that, it instills guilt and it creates the sense that if you can't find a way to be positive in the context of tragedy, you're doing something wrong. Lastly, it steers clear of genuine human emotion as toxic positivity operates as an avoidance strategy, and when other people engage in this form of conduct, it enables them to dodge difficult emotional circumstances. Oftentimes, we internalise these harmful notions and turn them against ourselves as when we experience uncomfortable feelings, we reject, ignore, or suppress them.

However, according to Medical News Today, there are several ways for dealing with toxic positivity for individuals on both sides of the issue which includes, accepting unpleasant emotions as it is natural and necessary aspects of the human experience, recognising and acknowledging feelings rather than aiming to suppress them, becoming more at ease with unpleasant feelings and lastly, encouraging individuals to express their emotions freely. As determined by Psychology Today, it is critical to accept the truth of our emotions by acknowledging it, letting ourselves experience those feelings, and moving through them—or, perhaps more correctly, letting those feelings flow through us—rather than wasting energy suppressing or being overpowered by those emotions. This is why validating one’s emotions is important.

According to Verwell Mind, emotional validation is the process of understanding and accepting another person's emotional experience. Emotional validation also serves a significant role, such as helping to improve connections by allowing individuals to feel more connected and build stronger relationships. Validating someone's feelings shows them that they are valuable to you. Emotional validation is a valuable approach for improving interpersonal interactions and relationships. Thankfully, it is a skill that can be learned and enhanced with practice.

According to Science of People here are some validating phrases that you could use to avoid toxic positivity:

Photo by Science of People

While it is important to try to see the positive side of things and look for the silver lining in all life events, it is equally important to acknowledge and attend to our feelings even when they're not as pleasant. Toxic positivity pushes people to disregard painful emotions, potentially increasing the intensity of these feelings. Toxic positivity is often subtle, and we've all been guilty of it at some point in our lives. Start identifying harmful expressions with an empathetic approach and make an effort to allow yourself as well as others to understand your emotions, whether happy or negative.

By: Reshma Kavtri


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