Have you heard of toxic positivity? What about “good vibes only” – one of the most popular captions on social media.
These days we can even buy posters of ‘’good vibes only’’, there are glasses, neon signs, t shirts, and massage tools with the slogan. The whole culture of the ‘’good vibes only’’. There are ‘’good vibes only’ gurus, shamans and mentors – people who are preaching positive thinking as a remedy for everything and over anything:
‘’You are what you think right?! That’s how the law of attraction and law of vibration work, so you better cheer up!’’
It is enough to scroll through Instagram or Tik Tok which are full of coaches and gurus telling us we must be positive, and only positive at all times.
Can this culture of ‘’being happy and positive’’ and always ‘’vibrating high’’ be damaging to us?
It’s not natural to be happy all the time
Oh yes, if applied in a wrong way it is very unhealthy. Do not get me wrong, I am a mindset and high performance coach and I work with my clients to help them to optimise their performance through expansion of their mindset. Yes, having a positive, creative and grateful mindset is a fantastic thing but it is impossible and not natural to be happy, with the good vibe only at all times.
By definition, toxic positivity is the overgeneralisation of a happy, optimistic state that results in denial, minimalization and invalidation of the authentic human experience.
Why is it so unhealthy? Because by forcing ourselves to constantly be happy and positive we are suppressing or denying our own emotions, but we can feel lots at the same time. For example, I can be very satisfied and positive with my career but sad and hurting at the same time with the grief of losing a close family member.
Dealing with sadness and grief should not involve pretending that everything needs to be positive and happy but it should involve getting in touch with our own feelings and emotions and living through them. That’s the healthy way. Of course, going into another extreme and focusing too much on the negative emotions and events is unhealthy as well as the nature loves a balance.
The guilt trap
Toxic positivity can also cause guilt which is then causes stress, anxiety and depression which in turn affects our self esteem. When we are feeling under strong pressure to be ‘’positive’’ at all times, we then feel guilty when having sad or moody days. And those days happen to all of us, even ‘’happiness gurus’’ from social networking sites.
Being positive doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t think of bad things which can happen, rather it means we are clear on and focusing on the best possible scenario and that’s where we focus majority of our energy. Is like getting into a car for journey. You assume and prepare to get to your destination. You don’t actually plan for a traffic accident, rather you check the map, put a post code in and buckle your seat belt.
To compare the same journey in line with ‘’toxic positivity’’, you would be as getting in a car drunk, with sunglasses on at night driving up the motorway against the direction of traffic as nothing negative existed or could harm us.
Recognising toxic positivity
Here are some signs on how recognise when our positive constructive approach is becoming ‘’toxic positivity’’:
- You are masking and hiding your feelings – that smiley face with ‘’everything happens for a reason’’ should not be the response to trauma or upset. Get your emotions out, don’t supress them, feel them and look for the lessons after that event.
- You feel shame and guilt for not being positive, or seeing the bright side in the particular situation. Being guilty for feeling down will not uplift your emotions, actually will put you down. It is helpful to talk or journal about what you actually feel. Allowing yourself to go through it and giving yourself permission to feel is powerful too.
- You brush things under the carpet and pretending they don’t matter “It is what it is”) . This behaviour is toxic and when you recognise doing it, it is good to stop and consciously reflect on what actually bothers you. Feel it, think about it. If is a dilemma you are avoiding instead of avoiding it, use a very helpful positive psychology exercise and write down minimum five various scenarios for your outcomes. You will feel the shift immediately.
Toxic positivity can also come from others: Here is how to recognise it:
- When someone is trying to minimalise your experience with ‘’feel good’’ quotes and statements. I once listened to a self-proclaimed positivity coach who was telling everyone that they need to be positive and affirm it all the time, throwing quotes and sayings as that would be the only way to deal with their challenges. In reality she was dismissing her own and others feelings emotions, and experiences, and making people feeling guilty and frustrated. When someone is trying to do this to you, please remember it is ok not to be ok, and move away from them.
- At times people will try to give you the perspective that it a ‘’could be worst’’ approach. They are dismissing your feelings and emotions by indicating that there are other things you should be happy for. The truth is that trauma and hurt are very personal and we can not compare the impact it makes on each of us. The event might seem more or less severe but your emotions are yours and no one should disrespect it or force you not to feel because they think you should feel otherwise.
- Shaming others for feeling frustrations, fear or sadness – basically anything other than positive emotions is another sign of “toxic positivity”. We are humans and we are designed to feel all emotions -they are fantastic indicators for us. Of course it is not healthy to be focussing or intentionally dwelling on the negatives but you don’t need to feel obliged to ‘’cheer up’’ because someone told you so.
The importance of acknowledging feelings and emotions
Several psychological studies show us that hiding or denying feelings leads to more stress to the body and increases difficulty in dealing with further distressing thoughts and feelings.
That’s why it is so important for our mental and physical health to acknowledge our feelings and emotions, feel them, and verbalise them.
That’s what keeps us balanced and healthy. By honouring our feelings, we embrace and accept all of ourselves, and live as authentic us.
It is good to manage your negative emotions but make sure you don’t deny them. We need to be realistic about what we feel and at tough time practice self-care, not “good vibes only” attitude. Notice and be aware of how you feel and listen to others, and show them support. Remember we don’t have to act on every emotion. At times we need to sit with it, give yourself some space to reflect and if possible, vocalise it by talking to a friend or journaling. Learn to notice ‘’toxic positivity’’ and give yourself and other permission to feel both positive and negative emotions. We need to make sure we live our life in balance, feeling and allowing all of our emotions while maintaining a healthy and positive mindset.
Olga Kublik is a Mindset and Performance Coach, find out more at olgakublik.com.