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It could be worse, right? Just stay optimistic. Happiness is a choice. Look on the bright side. People have it so much worse. At least you’ve got… blah blah blah. That’s quite enough.

 

How about…It’s shameful. It causes guilt. It represses authentic human emotion. It prevents growth. 

 

One concern that has arisen as a consequence of the pandemic is the idea of toxic positivity, specifically, that people should strive to be grateful for what they do have, and not what they don’t or what they have lost. Toxic positivity takes positive thinking to an overgeneralised extreme while minimising emotions that aren’t wholly optimistic. 

 

While cultures such as these are well-intentioned and not meant to be hurtful, they ultimately undermine the intensity or difficulty of the situation a person may be going through. It creates feelings of disillusionment and guilt, which can only worsen someone’s circumstances. 

 

The idea that a person is assumed to remain positive despite being in an emotionally challenging situation is toxic. Happiness being compulsively pushed enforces the idea that authentic human emotions that aren’t considered inherently good must be the opposite, and have no place to be valued or considered seriously. Even when the remarks being made are sincere, it’s important to acknowledge that positivity can still be damaging. 

 

Signs of toxic positivity;

 

  • Being too proactive/practical. Trying to just get on with things and keeping yourself busy is a sign that you’re dismissing your emotions
  • Offering someone else a different perspective, i.e., comparing their experience to something much worse in order to belittle their situation
  • Shaming people for expressing anything that isn’t considered a positive emotion
  • Dismissing things that are bothering you, i.e., saying “it is what it is” frequently
  • Feelings of guilt, either for sharing your concerns or just feeling guilty for the way you feel

 

Difficulty avoiding distressing thoughts has been recognised by many psychological studies as something that denying our feelings can lead to. Living our lives inauthentically can further contribute to a loss of connection with ourselves and the people around us. 

 

Instead, try saying;

 

  • Failure isn’t an option – Failure is a part of growth and success.
  • If I can do it, so can you – Everyone’s abilities and limitations are different, and that’s okay.
  • Everything happens for a reason – How can I support you during this difficult time?
  • It could be worse – I’m sorry that you’re going through this. Your feelings are valid.
  • Just stay positive – That must be really hard. I’m listening to you.

 

Toxic positivity denies self-compassion and the space for challenging circumstances to be addressed with the sensitivity they require. The minimisation and invalidation of the human experience consequently silences those who are struggling, resulting in feelings of anger, denial, and jealousy. This monochromatic mindset is the basis for being a transmitter of toxic positivity, and it’s something that we’ve all contributed to without realising the consequences. Whether it’s intentional or not, it remains essential to set healthy boundaries with anyone who is easily and consistently dismissive of your thoughts and experiences.

 

It’s okay to embrace every triumph without invalidating the challenges of life. Give yourself permission to be realistic about your circumstances. 

I'm a 22 year old student from North Wales studying MA English Literature at the University of Aberdeen. You'll find me writing about anything and everything from the horrors of imposter syndrome to Phoebe Waller-Bridge's latest revelation.
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