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Having a positive outlook in life is good practice. At times, looking at the brighter side of things can help you get through a difficult day. Being optimistic can help you feel less stressed and have the motivation to overcome challenges. However, it can turn into toxic positivity.
Toxic positivity is when people force a positive mindset despite being in a dire or challenging situation. It promotes feeling good without acknowledging the pain you feel as a result of a negative experience. This is where the problem lies. Toxic positivity limits emotions to only those that are happy or positive, removing the opportunity to feel authentic human emotions. When you avoid recognizing your painful emotions, you also lose the chance to gain deeper insight and learn from the experience. Here are some things you can do to prevent optimism from becoming unhelpful.
Tips To Avoid Toxic Positivity
Distinguish Toxic Positivity
You’ll encounter people who are either naturally optimistic or influence toxic positivity, and it’s important to learn the difference between the two. Since toxic positivity takes various forms, you may not be able to recognize it right away. Here are some examples of statements that are well-meaning but not helpful to the person receiving them.
- When something bad happens to you, some people may urge you to stay positive. Instead of communicating sympathy, this can discourage you from further expressing how you feel. For example, you could be unhappy about losing your job. If a friend tells you to just lighten up, you might hesitate to tell them more about what you’re feeling. Instead of helping you find a way to overcome your negative feelings, they only focus on instantly feeling better. This is not helpful in managing emotions.
- You may encounter a person telling you that everything happens for a reason after you have experienced loss. Although the statement is meant to give comfort, the effect can be the opposite. Finding a reasonable explanation for why you lost a loved one does not help alleviate the grief you feel. Pain and sadness as normal reactions to loss, and heeding this kind of advice can also prevent you from coming to terms with your feelings, which is not healthy.
- Simply choosing to be happy is not enough to make a problem go away. You might share your personal challenges with a coworker and be told that you have the choice to be happy. You can respond by smiling and looking happy, but without addressing the issue, it won’t get resolved. The statement can also make you feel at fault you’re sad and disappointed.
Be Aware Of The Signs
Aside from learning when words reflect toxic positivity, you also need to know what actions promote it. They can be subtle and recognizing them can help you identify this behavior better.
- Refusing to face problems by brushing them off
- Having a sense of guilt for feeling sad, angry, or other negative emotions
- Hiding your true feelings
- Seeking social acceptance by hiding behind feel-good quotes or social media posts
- Disregarding other people’s feelings when they make you feel uncomfortable
- Looking down on people who don’t have a positive attitude
- Having a stoic attitude to avoid painful emotions
Acknowledge Your Emotions
As a human being, you are bound to sense all types of emotions, both positive and negative. Often, people try to dismiss uncomfortable feelings through denial and distractions but this makes it harder to cope with difficult situations. Instead, name all the emotions you are feeling, including negative ones. When you validate these feelings, you can better understand them, their cause, and how to address them in a healthy way. For example, if you feel nervous because you are taking on a new business opportunity, you can acknowledge the anxiety you feel and use that energy to prepare yourself better.
Manage Your Pain
Once you have put a name to what you are feeling, it’s time to address them. Do you need to ask your friend for help? Do you need to take a break? You need to be realistic with how you manage your negative emotions by practicing self-care. Do what you can to ease them and the effect they have on you.
Also, you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself about not being able to deal with everything all at once. If it helps, address one feeling at a time. If you are feeling lonely, talking to your loved ones may help. Are you feeling angry? Release it by stomping your feet, then ask yourself what it is that made you feel that way.
Listen And Show Support
Aside from managing your feelings, you also need to be aware of other people’s emotions and how you respond to them. At times, the simple act of listening can the best way to help. You can also validate their feelings and let them know that it is normal to have certain emotions. But in some cases, you may need to express your support. For example, a person recovering from substance abuse may need some motivation. Sharing encouraging words for someone in rehab can inspire them to stick with their treatment. Some statements you can say are:
- I’m here for you, no matter what.
- Sometimes, we encounter bad things. How can I help you?
- What you are feeling is normal.
Keeping a positive mindset amidst your struggles can be beneficial. But if you only validate positive feelings, you can fall into the trap of toxic positivity. Next time, when someone tells you to cheer up and look at the brighter side or come across a positive statement, take time to acknowledge how you truly feel at the moment. If such testimonies help improve your current disposition, then let it become your mantra to get through the day.