It may seem impossible to have a positive mindset when you are experiencing hardships, but we all know that having a positive outlook during difficult times can lead to greater well-being. With that being said, there are times when positivity, if taken to the extreme, can be a bad thing. While there are great benefits in positive thinking, toxic positivity avoids and rejects difficult emotions entirely. It is a set of extreme beliefs that, regardless of how hard a situation may be, a person must stay positive.
The issue with this thinking is that life isn’t always positive. Toxic positively disregards the inevitable experiences of pain and distress that accompany life. It is crucial to not minimize challenging and unpleasant emotions in order to move through them and grow from them.
What Does Toxic Positivity Look Like?
Toxic positivity demands a positive outlook on a situation regardless of the adversity, trauma, or struggle that one is facing. This is harmful in many ways, as it may cause some individuals to stifle their own emotions or avoid seeking social support entirely. Some examples of toxic positivity might include:
- Overusing that “everything happens for a reason,” especially during devastating events
- Comparing someone’s situation to a worse scenario, explaining how “things could be worse”
- Labeling individuals that seem to always have their life together or are more positive as being stronger or more likable
- Motivating others to use their adversity as a reason to thrive regardless of their hardships
- Demanding gratitude, i.e. telling someone with an eating disorder to be grateful and happy that they have access to food
Why Is It Good to Feel Negative Emotions?
Toxic positivity is a perspective that leads people to believe that positivity cures everything when in reality, this is not true. A person that learns to behave this way also subconsciously learns to ignore unpleasant feelings entirely. Experiencing unpleasant emotions serves many benefits, such as:
- Learning different ways to cope with adversity, such a loss
- Recognizing experiences of isolation and loneliness
- Communicating challenges in relationships, such as miscommunications or crossed boundaries
- Being able to practice empathy and compassion when others experience unpleasant emotions
- Alerting us of changes we may need to make in our physical or mental functioning
- Experiencing situations that may require a greater level of safety or comfort
Emotions are designed as personal messengers. These messengers are valuable to our own understanding of ourselves and our place in the world. Emotions do not have to be labeled good or bad, because regardless of the label, they act as signals to pay attention to the life experiences that are associated with them.
Why Is It Important to Normalize Adversity?
People may unknowingly use toxic positivity as a barrier so that loved ones do not have to experience the same adversity that they may have encountered. Normalizing adversity is important because it is inevitable. Even at a young age, competition is embedded into our lives. It should be okay if your child is not the smartest in their class, just as it should be okay if they didn’t place in their athletic competition. Grief and loss are normal parts of life. Adversity is something that cannot be reduced or avoided and trying to cover it up only makes it worse, leading to feelings of shame.
Normalizing hardships and struggles help us to connect with one another on a level deeper than common interests. For example, when you experience the loss of a loved one, it may help to talk with someone that has also gone through the grieving process. Likewise, that person may find it comforting and easier to empathize with someone that has shared a similar life experience or trauma. Adversity enables us to foster greater understanding and compassion. It normalizes unpleasant feelings that we all experience from time to time. Not acknowledging these emotions or failing to talk about them may only create more unresolved trauma for an individual. It is essential to find a balance between addressing negative emotions with positive ones and understanding that disregarding your own emotions is harmful to your mental health.
Finding a Balance between Being Realistic and Positive
One easy way to promote a balance between being healthy realism and a positive outlook would be to encourage others to speak openly and honestly about their emotions. Talk about the life situations that made you who you are today, without disregarding adversity or challenges. Try to get more comfortable with discussing negative emotions, and remember that it is important to recognize them in order to move beyond them. Instead of always having a positive response to something a person says, practice active listening without necessarily responding. Understand that there must be a balance of positive and negative — unpleasant and pleasant emotions — to experience a balanced life.
Toxic positivity is a topic that many would like to avoid, as it is common to think that there are no dangers to staying positive. Toxic positivity disregards the inevitable challenges and adversity that we experience in life. Without acknowledging hardships and negative emotions, a person may feel unable to communicate their true and honest feelings or feel like something is wrong with them. Negative emotions tell us that something needs to be changed and help guide us towards a solution. It is important to establish a healthy balance of positive and negative conversations and emotions as it is crucial for mental well-being. At West Coast Recovery Centers, we work with individuals that need guidance with addiction and mental health recovery. We foster a balanced treatment process, where you are able to express your emotions freely. For more information about the services and treatment programs we offer, call us today at (760) 492-6509.