Anna Schultz-Hands With Cell Phone

The Subtle Art of Toxic Positivity

A few weeks ago, I kept seeing this one post getting reposted to everyone's Instagram stories that I followed. It got reposted so many times I decided just to read it. Obviously, dozens of people identified with this post. I realized that the intention of the post was purely good. So why did it leave me upset? The post was meant to encourage positivity, for people to live their life without any regrets, for the readers to stop letting their fears and doubts get to them. 

To a certain extent, I agree. Life is meant to live rather than just exist. But I also think it's important to acknowledge that life isn't that cut and dry. It's messy and complicated and stagnantly ugly and living life to the fullest is easier said than done. 

Two lines caught my eye, particularly because they applied to me: 

"Stop canceling plans; go out and use your legs while they work."

"Embrace feelings and intimacy."

These two concepts are two things that I have always struggled with on a grander level than most, and this post instilled the feeling that these things that I struggle with were a choice. Like there's a switch in my brain that I can turn on that can extinguish what causes me to do these things. Like I can just control the severe social anxiety and the struggle of feeling out of control in the anatomy of my own body. 

Maybe the post wasn't meant to be that deep, but from reading the comments, it was insensitive and tone-deaf to hundreds of people who actually have gone through or are currently going through mental health issues. And I'm sure there are more than hundreds of people who have encountered this particular phenomenon. 

It felt like a written manifestation of what some of my friends and family say whenever they try to help me with my problems, all with good intentions, of course. And in fact, it is. This post was just one of the many times that toxic positivity has been exhibited.

According to an article from Healthline, toxic positivity is "the assumption, either by one's self or others, that despite a person's emotional pain or difficult situation, they should only have a positive mindset." With toxic positivity, negative emotions or aspects that bring down the human existence are inherently bad. The authentic human experiences of experiencing all of the terrible emotions and undergoing the ugliest of times are minimized, rebuffed, and invalidated. Although not intentional, it demonstrates judgment to the person facing it to feel and react negatively to pain and sorrow.

Being positive and living life the ideal way won't fix all of our residual problems and it won't help absolve trauma. It'll just distract from all of these horrible feelings and thoughts, making them more prominent. As someone who is just beginning to realize that there are ulterior reasons for my behavior and the most innate aspects of my mindset, I've been struggling to unlearn that I am not intrinsically the person I have been. 

Most of my life hasn't looked like your classic melodramatic coming of age film. So far, I've learned about bits of myself through long days in bed and crying fits in the bathroom after class. And it's ugly and unpleasant for me to think about, let alone write about. But I want to believe that there are reasons why I go through all of these negative emotions. These negative emotions are legitimate and feeling them out really allows me to learn about why I am the way that I am which can help me get to the root and pinpoint the problems that I should get help for. Difficult emotions are most likely valuable information, and by avoiding them, you might lose that valuable information. 

When people talk about "being yourself," well, how can I do that if I'm not sure about who I am? Well, one thing's for sure, getting to know your evolving self isn't always pretty. 

Now's the part when I talk about how I feel personally and confuse all of you reading this with the assortment of perplexing feelings and thoughts I have in my artillery. A part of me is reluctant to publish this piece. Maybe I'm not the best person to write this article, because it feels like writing this is one big excuse. What if I'm using toxic positivity as an alibi to not to live my own life? Maybe writing all this is a may substantiate defenses to feel better about living my life in fear. 

You see, I have all of these feelings that stop me from truly experiencing life, but I can't tell what incites them. Is it past traumas or is it merely my fault that I'm fearful and fragile for no reason at all? Is it a mixture of both? The funny part is if a friend asked me these questions, I'd truly believe that they had no reason to feel inadequate no matter what their reasons were for their trepidations. But for some reason, this thought process doesn't apply to me. For me, it feels like I'm the only one stopping me. Maybe I am? That's something that I'm still working through. Sometimes, being as honest as I can with myself feels like hitting my head into a wall over and over again. 

Again, I feel like there are moments here when I am justifying negative thinking, which isn't exactly the goal. The point is, there's no specific kind of thinking that is justified because both negative and positive thinking and everything in between is completely natural and legitimate. Of course, if I could choose, I would go out whenever I wanted and open up to those I loved. But life isn't that simple. While positive thinking is ideal in a perfect world, in a realistic world it is quite impossible. 

Life is supposed to look ugly at times so that you could distinguish it from the beautiful parts. And maybe it's the ugly parts of life that are a steppingstone to the beautiful parts, a path that isn't linear but is worth living no matter what that path may look like, and that is what we call living life authentically.