Updated: Apr 23
Toxic Positivity? We all know someone who has said something trying to help, but it really was not helpful. Perhaps we have even done it ourselves without realizing it wasn't the best way to respond.
I think it is important to note that most people are intending to come from a good place or simply don't know how to react to someone else's situation. Not everyone is given the tools needed to help someone else, they may lack emotional intelligence or are just plain uncomfortable and have no idea what to say or how to console another person appropriately.
And it is okay. It doesn't make them bad people. They probably care a great deal. The solution is education in a kind way to let others know what is or isn't helpful to you. It might even be very different between people and how they perceive the communication.
If you have never heard of it, it is when someone reacts to situations with excessive optimism and glosses over things that deserve to be acknowledged or responds with overgeneralized advice or statements that "all should be well", turn out good or even ignores the facts. It can result in minimizing someone else's experience and/or feelings. The person on the receiving end can feel invalidated or that their experience is ignored or denied. It is a "Pollyanna" overdose.
It is an ineffectual and unhealthy approach to another person's valid and authentic experience of being a human. All emotions are normal and should not be stuffed or repressed. Notice I said feelings. Feeling anger is normal, but acting out in violence from anger is not okay. Being sad is normal, but feeling suicidal is dangerous and requires serious mental health intervention. Feelings and actions are separate things.
For example someone who is grieving over a pet that died may be told that pet is no longer in pain and they can go get another one. That may be true, but does not help the person who is in pain get over their loss. Grief has to be walked through. There is no shortcut. A better response would be to acknowledge their pain and ask how you can help. Or offer to sit with them and let them feel it is okay to be right where they are in their grief. Be a shoulder to cry on. Offer comfort.
Another example is someone lost their job and the well meaning person said they will find another job soon, says they will pray for them, or points out they disliked things about that job and says maybe it will work out for the best. It could be true, but it doesn't take away that person's disappointment, anxiety or even anger about being unemployed. A better reply would be to ask if you can help in some way if you are in a position to help. Acknowledge their circumstance and offer to listen. For example, "I am sorry that happened, do you want to talk about it?"
It is also important not to discourage them or make things worse by pointing out negative things about their situation.
It takes a conscious effort to respond to others in a way that does not take away from their valid experience. Even if it makes you uncomfortable when other people are having feelings that are other than "positive" and understand that it is a normal part of life. No one is happy 100% of the time.
It is good to be happy and a beautiful part of being human. However if we did not experience sadness, anger, grief or any of the other "negative" emotions, we wouldn't know what happiness was like. Or the beauty of serenity and contentment. All the emotions are yin and yang. You can't experience just the ones that make you feel good.
Toxic positivity can be directed at others, but you can also fall into the trap of doing it to yourself to avoid feeling your feelings. That is not good either. Even unpleasant feelings have a purpose. Everything teaches us if we let it. It is how we have compassion, empathy, forgiveness and even love.
All that said, it is well and good for you to strive to be more positive about your own life. As long as you are not stuffing, denying or running from your feelings. Feel them. Sit with them. Process them. Do the work needed to grow. Give yourself permission to feel them and then heal.
The balancing part is to not let yourself slide into a constant negative mindset about yourself or your future. Every day is a new beginning.
God is there for us, within us, allowing us to have this amazing human experience as spiritual beings. You are never alone, even on the dark days. There is light in you!
"God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble."
Being aware of our divine nature and potential will bring us hope and the strength to keep going. Your life is a miracle and a gift! Embrace all of it.
God bless you, have a great week and Namaste.
Rev. S. Castle