Like every coin has two sides, everything that we see, hear or experience today has a bright as well as a dark side to it, even something as mellow as “positivity”.
Toxic Positivity is a term used to describe the immensely popular notion that a person should maintain a positive outlook no matter how harsh the situation is. While it may seem like a perfectly good solution to all your problems initially, it can cause much more harm in the long run. This is because maintaining a sunny attitude even in severe times makes us repress our true human emotions and put on a happy face when we don’t want to. It makes us ignore our problems in their initial phase and ultimately those problems become even denser and cause much more harm than they normally would.
Toxic Positivity and Gaslighting
Gaslighting is a situation where a person is made to feel that whatever he/she is feeling is invalid, making them lose confidence in their thought process and question their own reality. Sometimes when we are dealing with a person who is experiencing pain, we may gaslight them by imposing toxic positivity onto them, just so we don’t have to deal with their feelings.
The Role of Platitudes
Sometimes, our “words of affirmation” can take a very bad toll on someone’s feelings. Platitudes often lead to gaslighting.
How? Let’s see.
1. Phrases like “Everything happens for a reason.”, “Focus on the good in everything.”, etc can make the person who is already hurt swallow their feelings of grief, sorrow, pain & feel the pressure of trying to find something “positive” about a devastating situation that they have faced. Ultimately, when they can’t find one they fall into an even bigger pity hole.
2. When you tell someone that “happiness is a choice”, you are basically telling them that their feelings are invalidated and the sole reason why they can't find happiness is because they are not “choosing” to do it. This results in the person feeling guilty and blaming themselves.
3. Telling someone to “get over it” makes them shut up about anything they might want to discuss with you or show any emotions that they’re feeling.
Just remember, that while these statements are usually made with a good intention, they can have a not-so-good effect on the other person’s mindset.
Why talk about it now?
Toxic Positivity has always been a less talked about issue, however, it urgently needs to be hyped up now since we are in the middle of a pandemic that has made our lives much more uncertain than they ever were.
People have been caught up in their homes, some people have lost their jobs, and those who have managed to keep their jobs are working from home which is difficult to adapt to, along with fulfilling their household responsibilities. People are losing their loved ones, students are studying from home which is tampering their learning and a lot of families are dealing with financial crises. And, on top of everything, the constant fear of being infected by the virus.
In the midst of all this, the “hustle culture” is causing more harm than ever. People everywhere are bragging about how they started a new side business, learned a new language, or cleaned their wardrobe. In all, the pressure of “being productive” is there and it is a lot.
What to do instead
1. The first step to deal with our feelings healthily is ‘acceptance’. You need to accept that whatever you’re feeling is valid and completely normal. Instead of running away from your negative emotions, you should learn to live with them for whatever little or much time they are with you. You are feeling pure human emotions which is natural. Living in denial will only make you suffer more.
2. Talking to a trusted person always helps. However, if you’re not comfortable and want to deal with it by yourself, you can talk to yourself (it's not embarrassing, I swear) or even write in a journal. Whichever way you choose, it is scientifically proven that putting your feelings into words effectively helps to ease the pain a little.
3. When dealing with someone who is suffering, be empathetic rather than being sympathetic. For example, instead of asking a person to stop being negative, you can tell them that it is normal to feel negative in such a situation and nobody will judge them for it.
4. In case of work pressure, just try to cut off people or things that are trying to make you feel guilty for not giving your 200% to work during a global pandemic. A friend who constantly tells you their success stories during times like this is not the ideal friend at the moment.
Social media too has a huge impact on our point of view. In the beginning of the pandemic, everyone was paralyzed. Nobody knew what to do or what was happening or what was going to happen next. Social media platforms spread messages asking you to relax and give yourself time. Suddenly one day, everything went topsy-turvy and a global pandemic turned into an oppoturnity to be more productive than you ever were. This resulted in people accepting extra online jobs, starting new businesses, learning new languages, etc which of course severely affected the rest of us who were still in their paralysis mode by making us feel guilty. In such a case, one should avoid such people/pages and try to take a break from social media altogether, and try finding a balance between work and daily life.
In all, just know that you are at freedom of taking your time, processing your feelings however you want. It is completely okay if all you do an entire day is to get through it. In a world where millions of people are dying, you are not supposed to feel positive all the time. You are not obligated to maintain a positive attitude day and night and you are not supposed to pressure yourself to find a bright side when there isn’t any, and it’s okay.
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