good vibes only text

Toxic Positivity

“You shouldn’t have to pretend everything is okay, when it isn’t”

Positivity can be a great thing. Of course it can, it can be just what we need to give us hope and help us feel good. This is healthy positivity. Toxic positivity is when there is no alternative way you are allowed to feel, any other ‘negative’ emotion is blocked with dismissive optimism and good vibes are the only vibes that are welcome. This can be harmful, dismissive and shaming to the person involved and can lead to repression, detachment and guilt over our true feelings. 

Toxic positivity has become very noticeable during the pandemic, with various messages on social media shaming others for not using their time in lockdown to start a business or take up a new hobby. What we are all going through is a global trauma and ordinarily, if there is such a thing, a traumatic experience would not lead us to suggest other people become their best selves in the midst of it. Reality is painful right now. It is important to feel our feelings, sit with them and then let them pass.

Positivity, when toxic, is often used in an insincere, forceful way which can demoralise how a person is truly feeling. If you have lost your job during the pandemic and you are aware of the scarcity of jobs at the moment, you may be feeling scared, wondering how you will feed yourself, panicked, overwhelmed, depressed. You may be met with people who will tell you that it could be worse and you should be grateful for what you have. Chances are, you are already very grateful for what you have left, but that does not mean that it doesn’t suck, because it does. Being met with blanket statements dismissing our feelings can shame us and detach us from how we are feeling and stop us being authentic. 

A whole spectrum of feelings are part of the human condition and they are transient things in the ebb and flow of life. Toxic positivity can stop authentic human connection. Humans are flawed and we can feel emotions such as jealousy, greed and judgment. If we deny these in the face of positivity then we dismiss what it means to be fully human. 

Toxic positivity can be very subtle and not often done with the intention of harm. It may be that your feelings are a trigger for someone or that they are unable to empathise right now because of something they have going on. We can also do it to ourselves and tell ourselves not to dwell or acknowledge our less positive feelings.

We can help each other by not assuming someone else will respond to a situation in the same way that we would. We are all very unique and have the right to respond differently. Listening to someone can be the most powerful gift. Not assuming or jumping in with pick me ups can help to meet someone where they are rather than trying to yank them out of it straight away. We can help ourselves by being honest with ourselves about how we feel. If how we feel is too much to cope with we can try and find someone or a service whereby we can offload and be honest about this.

I don’t feel there is an easy answer to this. It’s a complicated area and I am curious what others think. It’s human nature to try and make others feel better and sometimes it’s so welcome. Maybe it’s more about an awareness of where your intentions are coming from. Are you able to sit with discomfort and listen to someone? Do you feel the need to avoid sadness, fear and worry? If so, why?

“I’d rather be whole than good”

Carl Jung

Reference image: Mark Adriane,