Have you heard the phrase “toxic positivity” lately? There’s a reason it’s making the rounds, and I think I’ve identified it.
It’s fair to say that this past year has been more terrible for some, but truthfully, it doesn’t matter whether or not you’ve lost your job, your home, a loved one, or none of the above. We’ve all lost life as we knew it, and that’s something that can’t be overlooked.
So here’s why I think “toxic positivity” is having its moment in the spotlight. Throughout most of 2020 and now the early part of 2021, it’s safe to say that most of us are feeling disappointed by some loss of freedom. We know there’s an end in sight for this pandemic, but many of us aren’t seeing it or feeling its effects. We’re cold, we’re tired, we’re stuck at home, and many of us are sick of staring at a screen for hours on end.
I can almost guarantee after reading that, you’re hearing a little voice inside your head.
Mine’s saying, “But Christine, be thankful you have a home. Be thankful your loved ones are safe and healthy. Be thankful that you have a job.”
And there you have it, there’s that toxic positivity. We’ve been taught to be positive, and it’s generally a very helpful life skill. But what’s not helpful, is believing that some emotions are wrong or invalid. Your grief is valid, whether you’re grieving a loved one, a job, a home, or even just your child’s freedom at recess.
Toxic positivity is more than an annoyance. It can have a negative effect on our health, increasing chronic stress and stress overreactions. Many doctors agree that stress can lead to other life-threatening illnesses, so it’s important that we nip it in the bud before it becomes a much larger, and much more serious, problem.
Here’s how we can all manage that toxic positivity:
Reject the Comparison and Shame Game
Let me say it again: your feelings are valid. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a position of privilege or if your situation isn’t as bad as someone else’s. You’re allowed to feel how you feel, without comparing yourself to others or feeling a sense of shame for your disappointment or sadness.
When we’re truly looking forward to an event or an experience that is taken away from us, that disappointment is real. It doesn’t matter if the event is something “legitimate” like a much-needed job interview or something more “trivial” like a big wedding, the grief is real to the person experiencing it. That grief needs to be acknowledged and accepted, without shoving it aside because “it’s not that bad.” What’s considered “not that bad” to one person, may feel life-altering to another. It’s important we work through our feelings.
Feel Your Feelings to Speed Up Recovery
On that note, if you’re sad about something, be sad. Don’t bottle up your emotions because you feel like you should be grateful. Don’t look for the silver lining. You’re allowed to feel how you feel and the only way to get out of that negative space is to work your way through it.
The irony is, as you move through grief, you can find your way back to gratitude faster. Sometimes the wound needs air to fully heal versus wrapping it up in bandages and trying to pretend to the world that it doesn’t hurt. I’ve found time and time again, owning negativity reduces its long-term impact.
Air Out That Wound
And finally, try not to bring toxic positivity to those around you. I recently saw something on Twitter that really struck a chord (and it appears I’m not the only one).
Some years back my wife and I got into the habit of asking each other
‘do you want comfort or solutions’ when the other was having a bad time. That one sentence can save us from an argument 9/10 times.
— Alexander James (@DrunkScribe) January 23, 2021
This is the key to toxic positivity. Sometimes, we don’t want solutions or for those around us to offer up silver linings. Sometimes, we just want to tell another human how we really feel—because it’s a lovely element of being human.
Be that person. Let those around you feel their feelings and be there to listen. Offer support, but don’t offer any solutions or positivity until they’re ready to hear it. Who knows, next time you speak with them, things may feel better.