As a child, I was raised with the idea that the best type of people to be around were positive people. Someone who always had a kind word to say about anything and would focus on the positives in life before they would ever give attention to something negative and yucky.
Then I grew up.
Rather quickly, I realized that positivity in high doses made me feel physically sick, and if anything I began to despise people who refused to be anything but positive. They began to wear on my nerves, little by little, until it tipped my internal scales and I told myself that I “hated positive people.”
As it turns out, forced positivity like telling someone “Oh, don’t think that way” or “Happiness is a choice” is actually not useful or helpful, like some people might think.
Pinterest abounds with all sorts of inspirational quotes focused on shutting down the experience of negative emotions and just “choosing” happiness instead.
Anyone with mental illness, chronic illness, going through grief, or any type of challenging life experience will be sure to get a laugh out of the one.
Oh yes, you’re right little words on the internet page, all I forgot to do was focus on being positive! That’s it! All my problems have now vanished and I am the happiest person alive. What would I do without you?!
It’s even worse when the words take human form and attempt to give you advice during a vent session or when you open up about the rough feelings you are experiencing. For me, when someone dismisses what I’m saying during the few times I allow myself to be vulnerable, I shut down. I am more cautious about opening up to that person in the future because I know that instead of validate my feelings, they will discount them and make me feel guilt and shame for not being happy go lucky all the time.
The most important part of positivity is that it is managed. Positivity on its own is not the culprit of the newly emerging toxicity found across social media platforms and real life social circles alike. The use of positivity, however, is a beast of it’s own.
When well used, positivity allows someone to know that their feelings are valid, that whatever they are going through is real and completely acceptable. It provides hope for the discomforted person to know that while things may be difficult now, there is something on the other side of this moment and these feelings.
On the other hand, when positivity takes a toxic turn it can come close to destroying people. They begin to feel alienated, alone, and completely misunderstood. As if what they are experiencing is something that’s unacceptable and they bury it and suffer alone.
So what do you do when you encounter someone or something with toxic levels of positivity?
Besides giving an internal eye-roll, (or hell, make it external if it tickles your fancy) I think there are some things that are helpful to remember as you navigate the toxic waters in the ocean of unbridled positivity.
First, remember that if someone or something makes you feel guilty for your experiences that it’s not true. There is no emotion in the world that is worth feeling guilt over, especially when you are in the middle of experiencing it.
Next, work on acceptance of your experience. Whether you want to label it positive, negative, purple, or blue it’s an experience that is happening. Denying your experience denies a part of who you are. Allow yourself to acknowledge, “Yeah, this is a crappy feeling and one that I do not enjoy.” Acceptance allows us the space we need to transform the experience not just into a positive one, but into one that serves us in our understanding of a situation, a person, a life chapter, and most importantly ourselves.
Last, but certainly not least – try journaling. If someone has proven that they are only useful in areas of toxic positivity, it might be time to crack open that journal and get to writing. I know I talk a lot about journaling on my blog but that’s honestly because out of all the different things I’ve tried from wellness routines to positive affirmations, journaling is the path that creates the most space or me to better understand my thinking, feelings, and reactions to various situations which otherwise leave me overwhelmed and confused.
Overall, if you experience toxic positivity, which I’m honestly sure you will at one point or another – remember that all the positivity in the world can’t change things that simply are. You’re not broken, you’re not wrong, and the person dishing out the overly positive platitudes has yet to have their eyes opened to the false reality their words are painting. Negative emotions and experiences exist. Plain and simple. The sooner we are able to accept and allow these negative experiences, the easier it will be to let it be but another chapter in our life stories and not the entire book.