• Josh McDonald

Why Toxic Positivity Is Creating Mental Health Problems

What is toxic Positivity

Have you ever had an experience that left you completely grief stricken? Or maybe you've suffered from depression and haven't been able to get out of bed for days.

When you go through those experiences, if someone were to say to you "Just think positive"... what would your reaction be?

Toxic positivity is the dogmatic belief that any of life's problems can be solved by thinking positively, or putting out positive vibes only...

But here's the thing, life isn't all rainbows and butterflies.

As human beings, we are meant to experience the full range of emotions. We are meant to have ups and downs, we are meant to feel joy and despair.

Think about what life would feel like if you only ever felt joy, and didn't experience any other emotions.

If every moment of every day was a moment of joy, how would you know how good it feels?

The experience of joy is so wonderful because it can be compared to the lower negative emotions. If you've never felt sad or upset, how would you know that joy felt great?

It would just be the standard feeling, and life would be boring.

Our negative emotions are also our way of growing, learning and developing. I personally learn a lot more from my mistakes than I do from my successes, and I know a lot of people are similar.

We use our negative emotions to teach us what we like and what we don't like. What we're willing to accept and what is a deal breaker. What we want to keep doing and what we never want to do again.

So if we are meant to feel these emotions, why do we try to force others to have "good vibes only" around us?

How does this affect mental health

Let's look at an example that some families in Australia recently have experienced with the recent flooding.

Let's say it's been raining for weeks, non-stop. You're sitting at home and notice that the backyard is starting to resemble a pool more than it does a lawn and you think to yourself "If this rain doesn't let up soon we'll be in trouble"

Over the next couple of hours the rain gets heavier, and heavier. You start to prepare for water coming in the house by putting towels under the door until you receive an evacuation message for your suburb on your phone.

There's not really much you can do here, and it's better for you and your family to be safe, so you evacuate and stay with some family in a dryer area.

Over the next few days, the rain just continues to get heavier. You hear on the news about people getting caught in flash flooding and drowning.

You know there's nothing you can do to save your house so you wait out the rain.

After a couple of weeks, you're cleared to return home and you find most of your house destroyed by the floods.

Worse than that though is the precious sentimental belongings that you didn't get a chance to save. There's baby clothes from when your kids were little, books that you've had since you were a child, finger paintings and school photos of the kids, and all the memories from when you and your partner used to travel and date before you had children.

These are all things that are irreplaceable and you are devastated.

You call up the family you were staying with to share your grief, and they tell you "Just think positively, everything will work out".

While this doesn't sound like a bad response, let me tell you what your subconscious is hearing...

You are feeling distraught, your body is being flooded with cortisone and adrenaline to respond to a perceived threat, you are having emotions that you should very much be allowed to experience, and someone invalidates those feelings.

Your subconscious is hearing "Your emotional reaction is not equivalent to this situation, you're overreacting."

Usually that's not what the person giving you "positive vibes" is trying to do, but that's what the end result is.

Most often, the "toxic positivity" response is because the person on the receiving end of the conversation, the one who is there to comfort, is not actually comfortable with the emotions of the person who experienced the event, the person who needs to express their emotions.

Essentially what they are saying (without realising it in most cases) is that their level of comfort in the conversation is more important than the emotional needs of the person going through a traumatic experience.

What can I do instead

So we know what toxic positivity is, what are you able to do instead? How can you react in a way that meets the other persons needs when you're comforting loved ones?

Well, here are some examples:

  • That sucks!

  • I'm so sorry you had to go through that.

  • I'm here if you need me.

  • Did you want to talk about it?

  • Can I help you with XYZ?

Really the words aren't all that important, the most important thing you can do for the person is to be present, and give them the time and space they need to express their emotions.

Hold space for your loved one, let them vent and feel their emotions in a safe space where there is no judgement.

If you can do that, you're ready to be a comfort to your loved ones, if you can't do that, well that's ok too, it just means that you shouldn't be the shoulder to cry on, you have some issues of your own to work through.

If that's you, and you need some help overcoming any mental blocks or past experiences, you can reach out to me to book a FREE consultation.

This is a phone call where we discuss any issue's you're experiencing and come up with a plan to overcome them. It is just a phone call, there is no obligation to take this further, so you have nothing to lose by reaching out.

Click the button below to schedule a call with me

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