How Much Positivity Is Too Much Positivity?
I guess we’re aware of how much our news feeds are flooded with ‘positive vibes’ and quotes. Any display of the opposite spectrum of positive emotions is attacked with ‘hey, look at the bright side’ or ‘don’t worry, be happy’. Oh yes Karen, how didn’t I think of that? As much as being able to see the good that exists even during hard times can help us to feel grateful and stay hopeful, that same positivity can morph into toxic positivity when we overdo it.
Toxic positivity is said to be the overgeneralization of the happy and optimistic state that results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of authentic human experience. Simply put, toxic positivity is when you feel pressured to feel positive or come across that way even when you do not feel it.
It is often described that insincere positivity causes more harm than feeling and processing negative emotions. We can observe how toxic positivity was more prevalent during the times of COVID-19 where unless you productively learn a language or get into shape, you’re just basically failing at life. Here are a few major detrimental effects of toxic positivity.
1. Harbouring unprocessed and suppressed emotions
Emotions that you experience are a reflection of your psychological state. Let’s say you’re experiencing extreme anxiety whenever your partner brings up the topic of marriage and instead of addressing the negative emotion, you just sweep it under the rug to avoid it. But, in reality, it might be just trying to convey vital information that needs to be addressed.
Perhaps you are experiencing the anxiety because you’re not ready for a huge commitment, such as marriage, or you’re struggling to figure out if he or she is the person you should decide to settle down with. These are possible causes of the anxious feeling that is letting you know there is a problem that you need to look into and work on.
We often suppress these negative emotions because simply feeling them is deemed to be abnormal in our society. This could contribute to physical and psychological stress. For instance, in a study where disturbing medical procedures were shown to participants, participants who were asked to suppress their emotions had significantly higher physiological arousal. Continuing to subdue your emotions only makes them more harmful, although you remain unbothered by it, for the time being. This causes it to blow up when you can no longer bottle things up.
2. Rejecting vulnerability
We often remain silent about our battles because we associate them as having the word ‘shame’ written with red markers in capital letters and slammed on them. This makes it so difficult for us to genuinely connect with the people around us because human experiences are just not always positive and all rainbows. Imagine being around a friend who brushes off your attempts to open up about how you’ve been struggling in your relationship for months, and asks you to just be grateful for the fact that you at least have one.
Now, imagine being that friend and try thinking if anyone will be comfortable being around you and being forced to wear their masks (not the surgical ones), hiding their scars and struggles; being forced to always be positive around you while you sprinkle away your magical positivity dust like salt bae.
3. We avoid embracing human flaws
A few signs of toxic positivity to look out for is blaming and shaming others for being expressive of their negative feelings. Sometimes, you might find yourself brushing others off when they bring up topics that deeply related to difficult emotions by throwing unsolicited advice of ‘be positive’. This often invalidates their feelings because your reaction doesn’t come from a place of empathy, compassion, and understanding. This also applies to us when we are shameful of our negative feelings.
We need to stop being in denial that we will experience negative emotions and it is okay to do so. Maturity isn’t about not feeling anger, resentment and jealousy. It is about acknowledging they exist and staying above them in a way that you don’t let them take control of your lives. When you deny their existence, you’re being inauthentic to yourself and others.
Here are a few things you can begin doing to avoid toxic positivity.
Accept the negative and difficult feelings
Oftentimes, you are not in control of everything that happens to you. It is impossible to control if a person you finds interest in you. You cannot control a friend who doesn’t want to be friends with you anymore. You cannot control if your parents will get a divorce.
Work on the controllable variables and acknowledge and accept the uncontrollable ones. Incorporate self-compassion when approaching your negative emotions. Maybe you feel that anger because you’re badly hurt or you feel resentment because someone betrayed you. Tell yourself that it’s okay to feel those emotions without bashing and being highly critical of yourself. You do not have to always see the positive side.
We often mistake supporting others with doing everything we can to stop making them feel bad. This mainly includes comments without empathy that solely focuses on the notion of how being positive is the solution. However, the truth is that you don’t have to be positive to support and care for others. This concept is beautifully discussed in a popular animated video using the words of Brené Brown, a research professor, and an author. This doesn’t exclusively apply for instances when you need to be there for others, but for when you need to be there for yourself too.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against positivity. I have an entire subject of positive psychology to ace in the next semester. However, too much positivity means we are always trying to see the world through rose-coloured glasses that does not resemble reality. See the positive elements that exist in your daily life – it helps to not overlook the blessings that are present. But, do not over-glorify positivity to the point it turns into negativity.