Remember that colleague at work or friend who’d always tell you to just smile, even when you looked (and felt) like crap? Perhaps, in this person’s opinion, putting a smile on your face equals overcoming any mental health issue you might have like through a miracle. If only it was that easy!
If only you can affirm wonderful words to yourself to cure your depression, anxiety and deep-seated insecurity!
What is toxic positivity?
To overcome toxic positivity you need to first know what it is. Toxic positivity is having a ‘good-vibes-only’ approach to life. It’s when you cannot allow yourself (and others) to experience any emotion that is not positive.
This approach is harmful because it causes you to suppress negative emotions. Which, in turn, will lead to mental health problems. It is known that depression is caused by suppressing basic negative emotions like anger or sadness.
Examples of toxic positivity phrases:
Just stay positive!
Everything happens for a reason.
You’re bringing everyone down with your mood.
It’s not as bad as you think it is.
Stop looking at the glass half-empty.
Happiness is a choice.
These phrases shouldn’t be used in situations where the person you’re talking to is grieving a loss (loss of a job, relationship, person, pet, etc), dealing with mental health issues or has been harmed emotionally.
Overcoming toxic positivity is about recognizing when you use positive statements to force others into feeling better. It’s also about not letting others make you feel ashamed of your negative emotions and walking away from those who don’t have the empathy to listen to you and your problems.
Why is toxic positivity harmful to relationships?
-It prevents the relationship from growing past the ‘let’s both be happy and not bother each other with negative stuff’.
-It makes the other person feel guilty for how they feel. When a person is shamed for their feelings, they may distance themselves from the relationship. No one likes to be shut down with statements like ‘It will be OK if you just keep a positive mind about it’.
-It makes people avoid human emotions. Toxic positivity can be used as a coping mechanism to avoid painful situations. If one feels like they cannot cope with grief, one can choose to put a smile on their face and pretend that, if they show they are balanced and OK, they will eventually become ‘ok’.
But feelings do not go away just because you want them to. They’ll stay inside you and turn into issues that are harder to deal with in the future.
Depression and anxiety are two mental health issues that can form out of an inability to feel or express negative emotions.
How to overcome toxic positivity?
-Tell yourself that it’s OK to not be OK.
And that feeling your feelings is not going to kill you. No matter how hard it is to feel your feelings, know that emotions are temporary. They will eventually dissipate if you face them head-on instead of running from them.
-Manage your negative emotions through coping strategies.
You can use yoga, meditation, journaling or mindfulness for this. Talking about your feelings with a trained psychotherapist is also a good idea.
-Be there for your friends.
You don’t need to solve your friend’s problem for them to feel better. Instead of telling your friend to ‘think more positively’, try to listen to them more often. Ask them about their lives and what they’re going through. Sometimes, just listening to someone is enough to create a stronger, more authentic bond.
-Walk away from people who engage in toxic positivity.
If you find yourself hanging out with the same people who constantly engage in the same discussions, try to take some distance from them. If they don’t understand that brushing off important topics and feelings is unhealthy, start looking elsewhere for human connection.
Your friends may not be healthy or/and mature enough to have a conversation about human problems, or to just be there for you when going through a tough time. That’s OK. There are plenty of people out there who are on the same emotional level as you. You can be friends with these people as long as you’re willing to let go of what’s not working for you.
It’s not easy to overcome toxic positivity. First, you need to realize you are engaging in toxic positivity with others. (and yourself) Second, you need to want to be more authentic with people and let yourself feel deeper emotions. Truth is, accepting that we all go through negative emotions will help you grow and strengthen your relationships.
Marlena Bontas is a freelance writer with a passion for health, technology and mental wellness. She has an MA in Psychology from the University of Helsinki and is currently travelling. Write her on Twitter at @MarlenaEeva.