What is toxic positivity? Why pressure to achieve ‘unreachable goals’ is harmful

Positivity is one thing, but when does it become toxic? Experts say ignoring negative emotions can have long-lasting impacts. (Credit: Getty Images)

Having a “good vibes only” approach to life may have short-term benefits, but how sustainable is it in the long term?

Although research has shown that having an optimistic mindset is good for your set well-being, some experts say that using it as a way to avoid or suppress negative emotions, whether for yourself or others, can become what is called “toxic positivity” and that this can have long-term negative effects. Add this to the growing pressure that society places on young people to appear “perfect” onlineand ‘chin up’ messaging can be a recipe for disaster.

“Not only does toxic positivity affect your mental health, it affects your physical health, your relationships, and everything you do,” Vanessa Codorniu, a clinical hypnotherapist specializing in online wellness, tells Yahoo Life. “It also doesn’t allow us to learn from our experiences because you become too ashamed to unpack them.”

This can be particularly damaging for people in today’s digital landscape, experts say, where an ever-expanding jumble of content, especially on social media, encourages rejection or denial of real-world stress.

What is toxic positivity?

Toxic positivity refers to a forced belief that no matter how difficult the situation a person is going through, they should maintain a positive state of mind rather than taking the mental space they need to assess their feelings. . And while looking on the bright side isn’t inherently a bad thing, experts say it does become toxic when taken to extremes.

“Toxic positivity doesn’t have the benefits of true positivity because the benefits of positive emotions are physical and mental. You have to actually feel the positives, not just deny the negatives,” Dr. Pamela Rutledgedirector of the Media Psychology Research Center, tells Yahoo Life.

“Toxic positivity is an artificial facade,” she adds. “It invalidates the emotions, the lived experience of others and creates pressure to conform to an unattainable and unhealthy goal. It prevents empathy, which means you actually listen to someone to better understand and feel what the other person is feeling, so toxic positivity can make the recipient feel decidedly worse.”

Of course, books and ideas about positive thinking and manifestation are nothing new. The always popular You have to think to become rich was published in the 1930s, for example, and has to date sold over 100 million copies worldwide with its instruction to suppress negative thoughts. In addition, recent books like The secret and You are a badass are modern twists on the idea of ​​manifesting happiness.

But, as Codorniu says, in the age of social media, these messages have turned into an unhealthy obsession with “showing” our positivity instead of resolving situations pragmatically. “The New Age movement told us that in order to evolve, or to live a better life, or to be a better self-actualized human, like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and all that, we just had to be happy. That if you are happy, you attract abundance,” she explains. “So if you don’t have everything you see online, in the media or on TV, well, that’s your fault.”

Forms of toxic positivity – and its impacts

Toxic positivity can take many forms, but experts say it mostly manifests in people trying to redirect feelings of anger, fear, sadness, depression, or anxiety into happiness, rather than allowing it is up to that person to express them naturally.

For example, when something difficult or traumatic happens, such as the death of someone you love or the loss of a job or relationship, people may offer platitudes such as “You’ll get lessons”, “stay positive”, “look on the bright side” or “everything happens for a reason”.

It’s especially noticeable on social media, where comments like “you’ll get through this”, “keep moving forward”, “you get it” and “you’ll show them!” are ubiquitous, says Codorniu.

“These comments can make us realize that anything other than happiness is not good,” she points out, adding that they can manifest as harmful messages we tell ourselves – “I’m too busy to be sad” or “I have too many things to do to slow down”, for example.

Toxic positivity can also prevent people from dealing with grief and loss and, more importantly, from learning and growing from such experiences.

“You can’t deny the human condition,” Rutledge says. “Sometimes life sucks, doesn’t it? Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s incredibly difficult. You lose people, terrible things happen. And if you deny that, then you’re not processing it, you’re not accepting it, and it’s actually doing you more harm than good.

These avoidant-type methods are often taught to us at an early age. “When you were a kid, did you ever say, ‘I’m hungry,’ and your mother said to you, ‘You’re not hungry, you just ate,'” Rutledge says. “Or if you say you don’t want to do something and someone says, ‘We’re all going to shut up and we’re all going to have a good time. In other words, all of your internal experience has been invalidated.

This experience can prevent someone from understanding their individual strengths and weaknesses and, ultimately, their trust in the world, she says.

“When someone tells you that you should be positive, and that’s an unattainable ideal, it invalidates your experience, it makes you more helpless, and it means whatever you reach out to them for doesn’t provide you with any type of social connection or social support,” Rutledge explains. “It’s so destructive to people’s sense of self.

“When you don’t allow yourself to slow down and feel your feelings, you start to experience guilt and shame over negative emotions,” Codorniu adds. “You want to avoid increasingly uncomfortable feelings, which means you’re avoiding people and situations, taking risks, and having difficult conversations that might lead to something beneficial — like having that deep conversation with your partner, asking for a raise or better accommodations at work, even confiding in a friend.”

Codorniu argues that these so-called “negative” emotions should not be viewed as negative. “Because guess what? Emotions like anger could show you that something is seriously wrong in your life,” she explains. “Anger can let you know you are being abused at work or taken advantage of.”

The same goes for emotions like fear, sadness, depression and anxiety, she notes, adding that these feelings often arise when our brain tells us that “something is wrong” in a situation. particular. Pretending that these triggers don’t exist could lead to damage down the road.

To agree

Recognizing toxic positivity in yourself and others is the first step to eliminating it, but there are other things you can do to develop a healthier approach. “You have to be prepared to set boundaries” with friends in real life and online, says Rutledge. “You have the blocking tool.”

Mindfulness is equally important because it can help you understand how you really feel so you can learn to manage your emotions rather than denying them. This, adds Rutledge, can also help you decipher which friends are expressing genuine empathy.

“You often feel when someone comes up to you that you’re supposed to fix things,” she explains of people’s natural reaction when a friend approaches them with their problems. “[But] your job is not to fix others. This is to validate their existence so they feel good about being authentic.

“We’re all anxious and we’re all worried and we’re all struggling with various things,” she adds. “You want to know that you’re okay with being who you are, because it actually allows you to be more confident. Like, you have permission to be you. I don’t have to worry about that. how I feel and also what I’m supposed to feel or what you expect of me or what you want me to feel.

Ensuring your needs are met is just as important, says Codorniu. “I’ve learned over the years to say, ‘Do you want an advisor? A cheerleader? Or do you want a listener?’ she explains of certain situations.

“It’s about clarifying what you need and being willing to ask for it,” she says. “So if I call someone and say, ‘You know what? I just need you to hear me right now because I’m really pissed off,’ they’ll just listen. And then a other times I’ll say, “I’m a little upset about this, but I need to hear that it’s going to get better.” I need to hear the good side of this situation.

“When we don’t have boundaries, we become codependent,” she adds of the importance of knowing our needs. “When we give our power and our feelings to other people, we allow them to define who we are.”

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