Happy mind? Every now and then, we hear someone say “Look on the bright side!”, or “Don’t be so negative.”, or even “Man up!” and so many other sentences telling us to run away from unpleasant feelings and thoughts. If you have also tried this, you probably agree that at some point, it just becomes impossible not to experience unpleasant moments, and we’re left feeling even more distressed!
In fact, many have started using the term “toxic positivity” to point out how toxic this way of dealing with unpleasant emotions actually is!
How do we experience “toxic positivity” in real life?
It often happens that someone who has lost a loved one and is grieving, is told by other people to “focus on good things in their life” or to “get over what is in the past”. Sometimes, they are even told to “be strong”. Although they may mean well, these sentences all give a message to that person to “stop grieving” or “stop being sad”.
On the other hand, research shows that, when a person is grieving, it is only healthy to let the unpleasant feelings be felt and expressed. Otherwise, it becomes impossible to recover from the loss, and the person will experience many difficulties in their day-to-day life for a very long time. By trying to repress negative feelings, participating in social events and continuing their daily life becomes a struggle.
– Not being able to express unpleasant feelings only leads to bottling them up, and therefore putting more pressure on ourselves. This can isolate us, which further affects our mental health in general.
– Feelings are not “good” or “bad” – they are “pleasant” or “unpleasant”. Anger, sadness, and stress actually come in handy in certain situations, so removing them all makes us function less healthily in those circumstances.
Imagine someone has taken something of yours that you really value. Now, if you’re trying not to feel angry, this might actually make you more vulnerable to this kind of situation, and you may not be able to defend yourself.
– Truth is, you can never really “stop” an emotion by just thinking “I don’t want to feel that way”. By doing that, you’re trying to do something impossible; so it is expected to fail and make you feel even worse!
– Research shows that when our unpleasant emotions are “validated” and accepted by others, we experience fewer negative effects, and our bodies show fewer signs of discomfort. For example, heart rate and skin conductance are lower in individuals who can easily express their emotions without censoring them!
Sometimes, we have the illusion that we have control over how and when our emotions and thoughts come and go. Trying hard to have “positive vibes only” is another example of the manifestation of this illusion. By trying to control something you can’t, it is expected that you’ll feel hopeless, helpless and ashamed.
– Toxic positivity leads to denying, judging, censoring, and minimizing negative feelings – Research also tells us that these ways of coping lead to a more unhealthy and problematic way of dealing with problems.
To remember this, let’s do a small activity:
– We normally use “language” to tell ourselves or others to run away from negative emotions. That’s why working on our language can make a big difference. Look at the list below, and mark the ones that you now know can be harmful:
Harmful: 1, 3, 4, 5,7,8,10
Not Harmful: 2,4,9,11, 12
Note: The Not Harmful sentences mostly name and normalize emotions. This way, you are empathizing, and as a result, providing support to yourself or others.
Book: The happiness Trap (Russ Harris)