Toxic positivity has been ripe for a while now, catapulting mostly through the means of social media. Recently, toxic positivity has had significant air time due to the pressure of isolation motivation; getting fit, being productive, and staying in the hustle despite being in lockdown. Positivity is falsified through the guise of 'get fit, stay productive, be happy'. The root of the concept means well, and I'm confident that those behind it have no ill intention, but it still pushes the idea that we all need to stay positive, always. We are in a global pandemic, we will have good days and bad days, some days we might want to go for a run, other days we feel down. We are human.
Toxic positivity is defined as 'the excessive and ineffective overgeneralisation of a happy, optimistic state across all situations'. It's the idea that any situation can be overcome if you have a positive mindset. Positive thinking is pushed through social media, which seems to become nothing more than a highlight reel, and on top of this, it's full of beautiful people telling you to stay positive, with inspirational quotes on how to be happy alongside bikini pictures on beautiful white beaches. Yes, there is a place for positivity, which I will discuss shortly, but relentless positivity can often result in denial. It can minimise and invalidate your authentic human emotional experience. I will say that again, your authentic human emotional experience.
We've all been through this already, and we've been working on it for years. We know it's okay to cry, it's okay to feel pain, it's okay to feel your emotions on both ends of the spectrum and everything in between, so how can something so contradictory run alongside this narrative?
Your emotions are real, Eckart Tolle puts it more eloquently than I can:
"Emotion arises at the place where mind and body meet. It is the body's reaction to your mind - or you might say, a reflection of your mind in the body."
Accepting our emotions allows us space and time to process, move through, and come out from the other side. Moving through feelings and painful experiences is okay; it's a process used in therapy, and you can become your therapist. Being influenced by the toxic positivists, it will still exist within you. Have you ever seen a toddler get angry? When they clench their fists, stomp their feet, go red in the face? Have you watched how they physically manifest their anger, or sadness, or grief? It's beautiful. It's real human experience. Have you also noticed how quickly this moves through them? As we grow older, we get increasingly told to hold it in. 'Don't cry', 'don't get angry'. We get told to stop our healing process. I wonder what we would be like if we were taught how to move through our emotions safely, how to feel them without affecting others, as opposed to not dealing with it at all, but also how to share them with those we trust. Being responsible for our feelings, and allow ourselves to manifest it physically without harm.
There is a time and place for more positivity, but it doesn't live in hard situations. Have you ever shared a painful experience with someone and been told that it will all be okay? It doesn't feel good. Sometimes, life experiences aren't okay and won't be okay; they can be painful and hard to deal with. Sometimes we need to spend time mourning, crying, and feeling low, and most often, we need someone to hold quiet space for us, to listen, to be there, without telling us to look on the brighter side.
There are places for positivity, for example, in dealing with our inner critic, self-confidence, and esteem. Positivity can be inspirational in the hustle, our work, our career. Most notably, positivity can be beneficial for people who are experiencing incredibly negative thought patterns surrounding their sense of self. Bringing confidence and light in those situations can be helpful, but make sure to listen to the situation. If you find yourself trying to be positive in times of darkness, notice whether or not it is helpful. Does it make you feel worse? Or is it helping you to move forward? Neither is right or wrong, if positivity is healing you, that's great. If the need for positivity is drowning you, stop. If you're trying to hold space for someone else, try to listen and be present rather than give advice or positivity. If you feel that it's right, offer positivity before you provide it. For anyone who is feeling overwhelmed by their emotions don't be afraid to seek professional help, the professionals are well-practiced at holding space.
In conclusion, balance is central here. Don't feel pressured to always look and be happy, balance is the key, the yin and yang. Two halves that together complete wholeness. The sun and the moon, the warmth and cold, the positive and the negative, the high and the low. Give yourself permission to feel, it's what makes us human.
For anyone who feels triggered by anything I've mentioned, or for anyone who would like to discuss or ask questions, please don't hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or alternatively, leave a comment below. For anyone who is looking for professional help, my yoga studio also houses professional therapists so see www.themindbodyclinic.co.uk for more.