By Jadyn Cicerchia
Toxic positivity may sound like an oxymoron, but today I am going to show you why pushing every ounce of negativity out of your life is not always the solution to cleansing your mind. Positivity is a surprise silent killer; most do not realize they are doing it. Now, I am not telling you to never look on the brightside, but too much of anything can be detrimental. Telling someone to stay positive every single time they are upset is not helpful; it’s harmful. Learning this is something that completely changed my view of the world, and it made me understand so much more about myself.
Toxic positivity is the mindset that despite a person’s emotional or physical pain, they should always stay positive, or look at the silver lining. In order to fully understand this phenomenon, I want you to first think. Has there ever been a time where you were upset and a friend or parent just said “it will be okay,” “stop focusing on the negative,” “it could be worse,” or “being upset about it isn’t helping.” How did this affect you? Did you stop being negative? Was the situation suddenly magically better? Or did you just decide to pretend it was better out of embarrassment? Ok, so maybe crying about a bad score on a test is not exactly helping the situation. But sucking your tears back up and putting on a fake smile truly is not doing anything either. I have spent my whole life being told to just “be happy,” “stop crying,” and that all my problems would go away if I stopped being so negative. Did that make me any happier? No, it just made me fear my emotions.
In truth, being happy all the time is just as mentally tiring as being sad. No matter your intentions, it is not comforting to come home after a long day and be told to smile, and think about all the good things in life. Once again, I am not trying to say you should always be upset, but when something bad happens, you should be allowed to go lay down and maybe cry or scream into your pillow. As human beings, we are given negative emotions for a reason. It is the body’s way of getting out frustration. Being told to ignore them is what leads to depression, and even suicide. Being depressed is not being sad, it is being numb. You were told to keep all of your problems locked up in your head for so long, that you just cannot feel anymore. This is why it is so important for us as a society to distinguish between toxic positivity, and actually helpful behavior.
I find that from my, and from others experiences, parents are often the ones who unknowingly demonstrate toxic positivity. As the generations go on, the world is more accepting of mental illness and the idea that it is okay to not be okay. This leads to younger people being more understanding a lot of times. But, don’t fret, you can change. You have already gone through the first step, which is understanding the error of your ways. Now I can teach you how to make some corrections. We can start off with some simple thing such as changing your vocabulary:
You want to validate their feelings, not push them away. This allows a person to first welcome their sadness, then understand it, and lastly look for ways to get help. They will not be able to go through this healthy process if they are told to ignore their problems.
Now we can go over some more serious, less obvious forms of toxic positivity and how to avoid this as well. A lot of times when someone is depressed, or even just overwhelmed, their personal health is just not a concern. Things such as sleeping, cleaning, personal hygiene, and eating go out the window. Instead of telling a child they are lazy for not cleaning their room, or that they would feel better if they did not sleep so much, ask them why they are so tired, or offer to help them clean. Making them do something that you think will make them feel better might make them more miserable. Ask them what they need. Not seeing things at face value is the key to prevention. Toxic positivity can also be the act of making an assumption of someone’s mental state, and seeking blame or immediate change in behaviour. Dealing with life can be a lot harder than some think it is. You may assume your child is not sleeping because they are on the phone, but in reality they could just care less if they die of exhaustion. It sounds morbid, but it is true. By doing things like this, you are invalidating their emotional experience.
Now we have all learned plenty about toxic positivity. So next time you see someone in need, think about your actions of support. Stop ignoring emotions, know that being upset or mad is perfectly fine, stop jumping to conclusions about others, realize that telling someone to stop worrying isn’t an effective coping mechanism, and most importantly know that negativity is not always the enemy.