Feeling and processing my emotions has always been something I struggle with. Whenever I would start to feel an inkling of negative emotion, I would remind myself that I had nothing to be upset about and that things could be a lot worse. I would do my best to avoid confronting my feelings because it seemed easier than unpacking whatever was truly wrong. After a while, it seemed like the only emotion I allowed myself to feel was happiness. Over time, this led me to develop a mindset that revolved around being positive no matter what. I wasn’t allowing myself to feel in a natural, human way. Toxic positivity had a hold on me for a while, and I only recently recognized it for what it is and how it was hurting me.
Toxic positivity is the excessive fixation on positive thinking. It enforces the idea that no matter what a person is going through or the situation, they should have a positive mindset. This perspective can be both self-inflicted and imposed on others. It can manifest itself in many ways, all of which can be harmful if left unchecked. Some examples include feeling guilty for having non-positive emotions, ignoring feelings that aren’t positive, disregarding responsibilities, and forcing every situation to have a “bright side”. The difference between simply being optimistic and enforcing toxic positivity is that the latter attempts to ignore any emotion that isn’t positive entirely. It’s a slight but crucial distinction.
Toxic positivity seemingly crept into my life when I wasn’t paying attention. I would say it probably started in my senior year of high school. I had a great life; I kept my grades up, had good friends, and often had time for fun. So, when I started to feel down at all, whether related to those factors or not, I would remind myself of all the positive things in my life. I would use them as an excuse to not feel bad instead of making sure I was feeling happy. This self-inflicted suppression led to me feeling guilty whenever I experienced negative emotions. After all, from my perspective, I didn’t have a valid reason to feel bad. With all of this, I began to notice my minimized emotions piling up, weighing me down in the process.
At that point, I pretty much stopped processing my emotions altogether. It felt like I was screaming inside but smiling on the outside, doing anything I could to dismiss my feelings because they didn’t fit the “positive” image I tried to portray. Once I started to feel the pressure, I realized that I owed it to myself to genuinely sit with and assess my emotions, positive or not. What helped me with this was stopping when I experienced a negative feeling and changing how I acknowledged it. The way I thought about it was like putting on a coat when you’re cold, instead of just dealing with being cold since you already have on a sweater. Instead of dismissing my feelings because I had a good life, I would allow myself to address negativity instead of struggling unnecessarily.
Now, I feel like I’ve improved upon processing my emotions instead of masking them with a smile. Although I’ve gotten better, I’m nowhere near where I want to be. But that’s kind of the point. It’s much harder to dismiss feelings with positivity when you’re actively working through them. I’m able to recognize when I’m minimizing my feelings and grow from them rather than turning a blind eye. Feeling the full range of human emotions is something we should all strive to do. It helps us grow into healthier versions of ourselves, and everyone deserves that chance.