Get rid of “toxic positivity” and learn to embrace all emotions, even negative ones
Not feeling my emotions. Not completing tasks. I live in a robotic, emotionless reality, and from what I see around me, I am not alone.
It’s easy for me to mask my emotions, focus on the task at hand, look good, and try to maintain a positive outlook on life. I find it easy, because it’s what I’ve been doing for years.
Now that I’m in my thirties, however, I’ve woke up a bit. I just spent an entire year learning about my emotions – how to identify them, feel them, and validate them.
Turns out it’s really “OK to not be OK”.
As a parent, I have often wondered why we are not taught these skills in the education system. They are so fundamental to interpersonal relationships, navigating life and understanding who we are, how we feel and why it matters.
There were many times in my youth when I received the message that it was not okay to be angry, sad, jealous, envious, ashamed, or guilty. They were “negative” emotions, and if they were experienced and expressed, I was a bad person.
For example, when I felt envy, I thought to myself, “You should be grateful for what you have, you shouldn’t want more.” When I felt jealous, I thought to myself, “You shouldn’t be jealous, you’re insecure, you need to change. I believed that these emotions were bad and that I had to avoid them at all costs.
These are messages that I have received, believed and internalized.
For years I invalidated and suppressed my feelings, and beyond that I tried to practice positivity on a daily basis. Like many positive quotes I read, internalized and shared, I was reminded that it could always be worse, that everything happens for a reason and everything is as it should be. I just had to keep having good days, feeling good feelings, focusing on gratitude, and the worst of the worst would get better.
I picked up these messages somewhere along the way and found that I was exposed, accepted and even perpetuated a cycle of toxic positivity.
As New York psychotherapist Babita Spinelli has described it, toxic positivity is the belief that no matter how difficult or painful a situation is, an individual must stay positive and change their attitude in order to be happy or grateful. It is a “good vibes only” approach to life.
When someone tries to express a negative emotion or process a difficult experience and is met with toxic positivity, it invalidates their subjective experience and, as gas lightingit can have a negative effect on these people.
Instead of suggesting to someone that they “just stay positive” or that “it could be worse”, try a non-toxic alternative such as “this must be really hard”, “how can I help?” or “I’m here”. no matter what.”
Emotions play an important role in how we think and behave. I started trying to feel the wide range of emotions, even the most negative ones. Staying positive in difficult times is an admirable trait, but so is processing and integrating the most difficult emotions.
No matter what the outside world tells you, “it’s okay not to be okay.”