The next time someone tells you, ‘Oh, don’t worry; just be positive,’ run. Beware! They are pushing you into a deep dark pit of negativity, false self-image, emotional suppression, and a little bit more towards depression.
A few months back, an Instagram post taught me about the existence of toxic positivity and ways to tackle it. And like me, I know there are many people out there who don’t know what it means, even though this is something they have encountered frequently. But who can we blame when all that has been ingrained in our heads is to be positive at all times and smile away even when life is going berserk.
Moreover, overrated and overhyped quotes like ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’, ‘Good Vibes Only’, ‘There is always a silver lining’ or ‘Be Grateful’ plastered everywhere add to the cycle of toxic positivity. What every one of us fails to understand is that sometimes staying calm is impossible and being happy and grateful is really, really tough. And that is absolutely normal and human. Can you imagine that we humans have failed to understand and accept such a basic fact about us? Oh, how better off we all would have been mentally if we had the right approach and support when we needed a shoulder to cry on.
There is a video on the internet to understand how entrenched and deep-rooted this problem is. A woman narrates an incident where her cat was bleeding and was on her way to the hospital. Now in a situation where it is completely natural to panic and worry about her cat’s life, there was a tiny intrusive part in her head that kept telling her to think positive or the cat might die. Sounds familiar, right? We have also been in situations where we forced ourselves to think positively when we clearly were in no mood, fearing that something bad might happen or someone might say something to us. Now, that is wrong. And here, it was not someone else’s dismissive or ignorant words that invalidated our feelings but our own.
So what exactly is toxic positivity?
Healthline describes toxic positivity as “the assumption, either by one’s self or others, that despite a person’s emotional pain or difficult situation, they should only have a positive mindset or positive vibes.” This usually births many other mental health issues like feeling the need to be doing good cause others seem to be doing great on social media, suppressing genuine emotions, and delegitimizing people’s worries and concerns, making them feel guilty of their low mental state.
When you are told to stay positive and look at the brighter side, they tell you that with the best intentions. People fail to realise that what is required is comfort and letting people know that someone is there for them. That is the secret. They do not need advice or opinions or even positive words to heal; just a hand on their shoulder and a warm hug is often the best antidote.
Nataasha Khattar, a mental health advocate on Instagram, says, “I believe people are generally not too aware of what toxic positivity is, or how positivity taken to an extreme length becomes more detrimental than helpful.” Stressing on the fact that often at times social media becomes a trigger/relapse point to people, Nataasha says, “If some Instagram page or influencer tells you to just stay positive or that things happen for a reason so as to provide a ‘non-judgmental empathetic space’, you are definitely not going to feel better about what you are already going through. Moreover, you will now have a coloured perception of what therapy would be like. Therapy is NOT advice-giving or just listening. It is so, so much more. Every clinical or counselling psychologist is trained for at least 7-10 years, and not to just tell you that ‘others have it worse’ or ‘just smile through it.’”
An important question that lies in front of us is how do we identify or rectify our very own toxic mind or social circle that keeps pulling us into the loop of toxic positivity? Christine Altidor shares a simple infographic on her Instagram showing how to avoid toxic positivity.
If there is one thing to embed in our minds after reading this article, it is to understand how major the role of validating and empathizing is. It is crucial for us to make sure that next time someone complains about how stressful their job is or how tough it is living with family drama, we ought not to tell them ‘at least you have a job’ or ‘at least you have a family’ or ‘don’t overthink, everything will be fine.’
Life is not a bed of roses or a bed of thorns; it is a combination of both. There is happiness and sadness as much as there is drama and grief and jealousy and numbness. So please don’t force positivity, don’t fake a smile, and never hesitate from sharing what goes on in your mind. And for heaven’s sake, grieve when your heart wishes to surrender to feelings.