Toxic Positivity

When Does Positivity Become Toxic?

So much of the current trends in psychology and mental health revolve around the importance of a positive outlook and a positive mindset. In fact, it’s something I have written about extensively myself, with a strong message around the importance of reframing and finding the positive and examining self-talk. 

While this is an important part of negotiating the challenges of life and maintaining good mental health, it is absolutely possible to take this too far. When the focus on positivity erodes a sense of balance between the natural highs and lows in life, this is when it becomes toxic.

If you believe anything that’s posted on social media, you would be forgiven for thinking that the only way to function these days is by being positive, all the time. Grateful regardless of circumstance and positive despite our situation. Toxic positivity is the belief that experiencing the lows in life is a bad thing, and we must always strive for the positive, no matter what. 

Unfortunately, this is almost impossible to achieve and can create a complex web of difficulties, exacerbating any underlying issues or concerns and almost gaslighting us into believing there is something wrong with us for going through the everyday human emotions, such as sadness or grief, anger or fear.

It is simply just not a realistic way to live. Like most things, we need to find a balance between the energy we put into our tough times and the importance we place on “feeling better”. Yes, a positive outlook is important. The skill of positive self-talk is even more important. However, the trick is not to become obsessive about it, and to use it authentically. If you are feeling disappointed about something, allow yourself to feel those feelings. They are healthy and important and need to be felt, in order to process them. A healthy outlook would include some self-talk that acknowledges your feelings, allows you the space to move through them and then gives you a little pat on the back that says, “okay, so it didn’t work out this time, but I’ll try again next time”. Encouragement, rather than forced positivity.

When we enforce that positivity agenda at the expense of our “negative” range of feelings, we are unconsciously inflicting judgement, criticism and guilt on ourselves if we are unable to achieve that constant positivity and gratitude outlook. It’s important that we are able to identify and learn to be comfortable in all of our feelings, even the uncomfortable ones. We can’t be grateful all the time, especially in the midst of pain, and we can’t be positive all the time regardless of our situation.

If you are noticing toxic positivity in the people around you, perhaps coming from friends or family, it can make us question the validity of our own emotions and can be quite confronting at times. In these situations, it’s important to maintain clear boundaries and remember that our feelings are valid, even if they make other people uncomfortable and unsure how to support you, and that we will process and move through them when we are ready. It wouldn’t hurt to let friends or family know that too.

Remember to take everything you see on social media with a grain of salt and to go at your own pace. Finding the right balance will look different for each of us, so take the pressure off, try to avoid comparison with others and be kind to yourself as you’re going through more challenging times.

There is a place for positivity, but it needs to be in proportion to the situation without overriding our authentic feelings. So try to be honest with yourself and with those around you, and embrace the full spectrum of human emotion.

About Jana Firestone 

Jana Firestone has spent the last 16 years working intensively with people on their impediments to change. Since starting The Curious Life podcast in 2019, Jana has interviewed some of Australia’s most well-loved television, media and sports personalities, inspiring listeners to overcome their own challenges. Including surfer Layne Beachley, actor Michala Banas, broadcasters Kate Langbroek and Jon Faine and former Bachelor star Sam Wood.

Jana is also a mum of three and an author

Follow Jana on Instagram: @thecuriouslifepodcast

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