I am sure most of us have experienced toxic positivity at least once if not more in our lifetime. Toxic positivity is a “positive only” approach to life. The belief that we should maintain a positive mindset even in dire or difficult situations. While it may work for some people, the rest of us view it as gaslighting. Shutting down someone’s emotions by asking them to “look on the bright side” or “stay positive” can be toxic, quite the opposite to what the person perpetrating it might think. After all, the idea behind asking someone to cheer up is to help them relieve the pain. However, a very complex emotion, toxic positivity is real, often underrated and can have profound impact on a person’s mental health.
The idea of accepting and living the pain or disappointment or grief has better chances of alleviating someone’s suffering than neglecting the emotion altogether. Making someone realize that their suffering is real and not made up by their mind can lead the path to healing, and toxic positivity does the exact opposite. What’s important to note is that toxic positivity that used to be a problem only at a personal level, is now a pandemic in itself with the rise of social media and easy access to unwarranted and often glamorized information about our fellow being’s lifestyles. The motivational speakers and health enthusiasts and fitness experts of the world need to keep it real from time to time. I’m sure they have their days when they don’t have the strength or the energy to be motivated enough. Show that on social media too. Keep it real, not ideal.
Another common case of toxic positivity is sharing personal experiences when they are uncalled for. A lot of times we tend to interrupt a dejected person and try to detail our success story in a similar situation in the hopes that they will realize that there is light at the end of the tunnel. However, in such instances the attempt to appease often comes back to bite. Firstly, something that worked for you might not work for them and secondly, by doing this you’re basically undermining the magnitude of their suffering. A simple statement such as “I understand” can also be viewed as gaslighting. Because then the question rises – do you really understand?
“Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us” – a statement very reassuring often said in high spirits can also be taken as toxic positivity. So how do we check our positivity? To be honest, empathy is the only way. While responding to someone’s plight, think of what you would want to hear if you were in the same or a similar position. Step in their shoes and really understand their pain and acknowledge it for what it is, and not for what you want it to be. Common statements to pacify someone can be – “Whenever you need to call, I am here to listen”, “It’s okay to not be okay, take your time”. Sometimes, you don’t even have to say anything, just listen. More often than not, all they want is someone to talk to and be heard or just someone to cry in front of. BE THAT PERSON!