If you’ve ever read or been told to “just smile because things aren’t so bad”, then there’s a chance you’ve been exposed to toxic positivity. But what is it exactly, and why is it so counterproductive? Here’s more.

What it is

According to The Psychology Group, Toxic positivity is anything that “excessively and ineffectively” overgeneralises happy, optimistic states. This leads to the “denial, minimisation, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience”.

Toxic positivity can show up everywhere- from your Insta feed, to conversations with friends or family. Sometimes, it can come with good intentions, but the truth is that it’s a lot more helpful to listen to why someone is feeling the way they’re feeling, without dismissing them or telling them to just “look on the bright side”.

Why it’s toxic

Feelings and thoughts aren’t always simple, and it’s not possible (or healthy) to be positive 100% of the time. Toxic positivity asks people to deny and ignore negativity- something which is a normal part of life.

Toxic positivity also makes people feel guilty for not being able to be positive all the time which, let’s face it, is impossible to do. The shame that some people can start to feel because they’re experiencing so-called “bad” emotions, can make them less likely to open up, and suffer in silence while believing that there’s something wrong with them.

Difficult feelings and situations take time and patience to work through. There’s no magic wand that can fix them instantly, and it’s not fair to ourselves to think that there’s something wrong with us for not being able to just smile and get on with our lives when we’re in pain.

The true meaning of positivity

Being a positive person isn’t about having a smile on your face 24/7. It’s about understanding that negative situations happen, but that they can change or be transformed into something better.

If you’ve been exposed to toxic positivity, it’s important to know that it’s ok not to be ok all the time. Feeling sad, hurt, lonely, angry or any other “negative” emotion is a normal part of being human, and the only way to overcome these emotions in a healthy way is to acknowledge them and give yourself permission to feel them.

It’s ok to encourage others (or yourself) to look on the bright side now and then, but that shouldn’t be done by denying negative emotions altogether. By accepting that negativity is a part of life, you can empower yourself and your loved ones to speak about it openly, and work through it in healthy ways. If you’ve experienced trauma, here are a few ways to aid your healing.

Despite what people who spread toxic positivity would have you believe, acknowledging how you feel about your problems is healthy, and you shouldn’t feel bad about it. If you need to talk about your negative feelings, consider finding a therapist in your area, or contacting the South African Depression and Anxiety Group.

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