‘Toxic positivity’ isn’t helping anyone

Sometimes a “good vibes only” sign is doing more harm than good.

“Toxic positivity” refers to the concept that blindly staying positive can mean rejecting anything that may trigger negative emotions. This doesn’t mean you’re processing feelings and events in a healthy way, you’re pushing aside unpleasant emotions, which actually exacerbates them.

Excess of positivity, like excess of anything, can be dangerous — particularly in a time like right now, where we are constantly being told these are “unprecedented times” and how if we “all stick together” we can get through to the other side. “This too shall pass,” right?

Toxic positivity has gone into overdrive since the start of the pandemic. People are being encouraged to brush off the negative and draining aspects of quarantine and are being asked to accept an oversimplified understanding of what’s going on in the world. It’s damaging externally and internally for a person: You no longer feel like there’s anyone else you can turn to and suppressing emotions can deteriorate your mental health.

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In The Know interviewed Dr. Amanda Darnley, a licensed clinical psychologist, who summarized toxic positivity succinctly in the metaphor of a burning house.

“I like to think of it like a metaphor for where your house can be burning down around you, and you’re sitting there smiling saying how much you enjoy the heat,” Darnley told In The Know. “Overall, it’s invalidating real human experiences.”

According to Darnley, experiencing a full range of emotions — good and bad — isn’t a flaw, it makes us human.

“We can’t select which emotions we’re going to have,” Noel McDermott, a clinical psychologist, told Refinery29. “If we try to get rid of one set of emotions, we’ll get rid of them all and become numb to both pleasant and unpleasant emotions. If you try to get rid of bad emotions, you damage your whole internal world.”

Negative emotions, in spite of how hard they can feel at times, actually help build your resilience and capabilities to cope with future problems — because there’s always going to be future problems.

“While not everyone deserves the unfiltered truth of our lives,” Margie Warrel wrote in Forbes, “curating a fake emotional world cuts us off from the very people who could help carry our burdens better.”

Healthier alternatives to toxic positivity include validating others and being honest with yourself and those around you. Helping someone does not mean you have to solve their problems, just listen attentively and acknowledge their feelings.

Ultimately, keep in mind: It’s OK to not be OK.

Interested in pop psychology? Find out what your Myers-Briggs type says about you.

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