Written by: Amanda Talak, LPCC
“Positive vibes only!”
“It could be worse.”
“Failure is not an option.”
We are in the middle of a global pandemic, and messages of toxic positivity seem to be everywhere. What is toxic positivity exactly? Toxic positivity essentially denies the human experience of the “uncomfortable” emotions, like sadness and anger, and suggests we immediately replace those emotions with positive thoughts or mantras. While maintaining an optimistic outlook is an important aspect of healing overall, repressing the uncomfortable emotions can actually do more harm than good for us in the long run. Repressing emotions does not make them magically disappear, as typically those uncomfortable feelings resurface. As a trauma-focused therapist, I believe that we truly heal when our trauma is addressed and processed. When we deny our emotional experiences, we are ultimately delaying the healing process.
– How do we combat toxic positivity? Let’s break down toxic positivity using the example of somebody losing their job.
Awareness: “I feel ______ because…”
Bringing awareness to those uncomfortable feelings is the first step to combating toxic positivity. With this particular example, a person who lost their job may say to themselves “I feel sadness because I lost my job. I feel worried about the unknown.”
Acceptance: “It is okay to feel ______”
Although I am not the biggest fan of the word “normal”, I am here to say that it is NORMAL to experience the uncomfortable emotions like sadness and worry. Practicing self compassion is key when uncomfortable emotions arise. Normalizing ALL emotions, and not just the positive ones, can help us move towards a place of acceptance rather than denial. With this particular example, the person who lost their job may say to themselves, “It is okay to feel sadness and worry due to losing my job. It makes sense that I am feeling this way.”
Add Gratitude: “Although I feel ____ right now, I can also experience gratitude for _____”
While totally replacing and covering up uncomfortable feelings with positivity can be harmful, including positive thoughts into our whole experience is important. Gratitude is one of the most useful tools in our healing toolbox. Continuing with the example above, somebody who just lost their job may say, “Although I feel sadness and worry right now, I can also experience gratitude for my supportive network of friends and family.” Sometimes, it may not be so easy to vocalize or visualize what we are grateful for. That is okay! Even experiencing gratitude for simple things in our lives, like a plate of spaghetti or our favorite television show, is a good place to start.
– How do we combat toxic positivity when we are comforting someone who is experiencing hardship? Many of us go into “fix-it” mode when those close to us are experiencing negative emotions. To be fair, this “fix-it” mode usually comes from a genuine place: We love this person and we want to do whatever we can to help them. Unfortunately, sometimes these “fix-it” statements can come across as invalidating the other person’s emotional experience.
Alternative Statements: Try switching out toxic positivity statements such as, “Don’t focus on the negative, just stay positive” with more accepting and empathetic statements like, “This is really difficult. I am here to support you” or “I am listening and present here for you. Is there anything I can do to help you?”
Amanda is accepting new clients with, Cigna, CCHA Medicaid, or out of pocket payments. You can read more about Amanda here.