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The Dark Side of Positive Thinking: Understanding Toxic Positivity

Toxic positivity is a term used to describe the overemphasis on positive thinking and a refusal to acknowledge or address negative emotions. While it may seem like a good thing to always focus on the positive, toxic positivity can actually be harmful to our mental health and relationships.

Toxic positivity can be seen in many areas of life, including social media, work environments, and personal relationships. For example, on social media, we are bombarded with messages that tell us to "think positive" and "be happy," often accompanied by images of perfect lives and smiling faces. In the workplace, employers may encourage their employees to always have a positive attitude, regardless of the challenges they may be facing. And in personal relationships, friends or family members may try to cheer us up by telling us to "look on the bright side" or "just be happy."

While it's true that having a positive attitude can be helpful in many situations, toxic positivity takes it too far. When we deny or suppress our negative emotions, we are not allowing ourselves to fully experience our feelings, and this can lead to problems down the line. It can also make it harder for others to relate to us and provide support when we need it.

“Toxic positivity is a cultural force that reinforces: “If you believe it you can achieve it!” “The only thing in your way is you!” “The key to success is a positive mindset!” “If you want to be healthy you must be positive!” “God will never give you more than you can handle!” … Toxic Positivity leaves us feeling alone, and disconnected. It stops us from communicating. It stifles creativity and change. It silences people. It labels things as “happiness inducing” and “happiness preventing.””— Whitney Goodman

For example, if someone is going through a difficult time, such as a breakup or job loss, telling them to "just be positive" can be dismissive of their very real emotions. It can also make them feel like they are not allowed to express their feelings or seek help, which can exacerbate their struggles.

Similarly, in the workplace, a focus on always being positive can create a culture where employees feel like they can't express their concerns or ask for help. This can lead to burnout and decreased productivity. So, what can we do to combat toxic positivity? First, it's important to acknowledge that negative emotions are a natural and necessary part of the human experience. It's okay to feel sad, angry, or frustrated, and it's important to allow ourselves to feel those emotions.

“We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” — Brené Brown

We can also work on cultivating a more balanced approach to positivity. This means acknowledging and addressing negative emotions when they arise, but also finding ways to focus on the positive aspects of our lives. For example, we can practice gratitude by reflecting on the things we are grateful for, even during difficult times.

In our relationships, it's important to be supportive and empathetic when someone is going through a tough time. This means listening to them and validating their feelings, rather than trying to fix the situation or telling them to "just be positive."

In conclusion, while positivity can be a helpful mindset, toxic positivity takes it too far and can be harmful to our mental health and relationships. By acknowledging and addressing our negative emotions, while also finding ways to focus on the positive, we can cultivate a more balanced approach to positivity and improve our well-being.

If you believe you may need support around toxic positivity, please do not hesitate to get in touch and arrange a free coaching call with myself.

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