Keyword: Always. Too much of anything is a bad idea – even positive thinking. Don’t fall into the traps of toxic positivity.
Sure, there are merits to thinking positive and looking for the silver lining amidst the chaos. But when people come to you for support, the worst thing you can offer is anything synonymous to “just stay positive.”
In this day and age, where everyone only broadcasts their best moments and derivative slogans of “good vibrations only,” it’s hard to find a place that feels welcoming of real emotions.
We’ve all been there. We try to vent to a friend, and when you don’t accept their positive outlook, you are regarded as “immature” and a “pessimist” who has not overcome childish biases.
Not to say that people who remind you to “stay positive” have bad intentions, no. But there are dangers in always reverting to the “positive side” of every situation and quickly encouraging people going through hard times to do the same. Your good intentions can quickly turn into toxic positivity.
When someone tells you about their problems and you respond with “it’ll be okay” or “at least it’s over” or “there’s gonna be something better.” You unknowingly undermine their emotions and situation. While you think you’re motivating them, you’re actually invalidating their emotional experiences.
Badly put, what you’re saying is: “This is petty, get over it. It’s not worth being sad about.”
Thus, making them want to stop sharing how they feel – to you and probably to anyone else.
Toxic positivity is a form of gaslighting or manipulating someone by making them think they’re not in the right mind. Yikes.
Imagine a friend who has gone through something traumatic – a death, an assault, a broken marriage, a diagnosis, and you resort to “stay positive” slogans. That trauma might only get worse.
So before you give some “stay positive” advice, hold that thought and remember two things.
- These people have come to you for support and understanding, not judgment.
- There’s a fine line between support and toxic positivity.
Toxic Positivity (Too much thinking positive)
Toxic positivity is the concept of constantly focusing on only the positive side. It’s shutting off anything that feels unpleasant to you, even if it’s a reaction to someone else’s experience.
It’s impossible to be happy 24/7. And it’s not “immature” to admit you’re having a crappy day and it sucks. Learning to verbalize tough emotions is what helps you process them and processing your emotions is exactly what we need to get to the other side.
When you try to ignore or bypass your unpleasant emotions, you make them worse by letting them build up. There is no such thing as skipping the process. You will have to grieve or mourn at some point. “Thinking positive” is just delaying your human response to the situation.
Unfortunately, we tend to project our toxic positivity on to others without even knowing it. And when we do, we leave emotions unprocessed and intensify blind spots, unaware of how we’re harming ourselves and others.
Emotions are neither “good” or “bad”
There is no such thing as “bad” or “good” emotions. Our emotions are actually quickly-processed information. Information that has been assessed through the lenses of all our experiences and knowledge combined in a split second.
Nobody has a perfect track record of experiences; hence our emotions are skewed to what we’ve been through. This is why it’s advised not to react based on emotions and respond instead. However, to come up with a proper response, we have to be able to process our emotions first, and that starts with openly talking about it.
Support instead of suppressing through toxic positivity
The next time a friend comes to you to vent, hear them out, and actually listen. We think when people come to us, they want you to propose a solution, but they don’t. They want to get things off their chest without feeling judged or invalidated. You can start by being that friend.
Help them process their emotions by allowing them to speak. Let them know what they are feeling is okay. Allow them to feel and be human by acknowledging their darkness.
Instead of pushing for toxic positivity, let’s push for genuine support and encouragement.
Let’s take the time to be better supporters of our loved ones. Let’s remind them that it’s okay to feel negative emotions. Let’s encourage them to open up about it so we can help them process their troubles and heal from it.
Hurt is valid, and we’ve all been there. And when our darkest days come to light, we all hope we have at least one friend whose voice we can resonate with. In our darkest moments, we don’t need a flashlight of positivity – what we need is to know we’re not alone.