A positive outlook allows people to focus on the good in any situation. This is a useful quality, but not when a person forbids himself and others to experience negative emotions. We understand what a toxic positive is, why it is harmful and why negative emotions are just as important as positive ones.
What is a toxic positivity
A positively minded person is full of hope, looks to the future with confidence and can even benefit from a difficult situation. There are benefits to being an optimist and thinking positively. Research shows that happier people live longer, have fewer health problems, work more productively, and make social connections more easily.
However, in an attempt to maintain a positive attitude, a person may begin to deny their own negative emotions or the emotions of other people. Then, as psychologists explain, his positive will become toxic.
Toxic positivity occurs when a person is unwilling or afraid to experience unpleasant feelings such as anxiety, fear, disappointment. And at the same time, he wants to feel something that he is simply not capable of experiencing in a particular situation.
How does toxic positivity manifest?
Toxic positivity comes in many forms. A person can use it as a self-adjustment or broadcast the “think positive always” attitude to their friends, relatives or colleagues.
Here are some examples.
- Downplaying the problem. The student prepared a lot for the exam, but did not pass it and was upset. And they tell him: “Don’t be sad, look for pluses in this situation”, “Take it as a useful experience”, “Failure is a point for growth”.
- Avoiding difficult and unpleasant emotions. A man’s friend died from an illness, he needs to mourn the loss, but he continues to convince himself or hear from others: “You don’t need to kill yourself like that, because everything happens for some reason”, “This is a normal course of life, you need to move on” .
- Accusation of negative emotions. The girl is depressed, but instead of support she hears: “Happiness is a choice”, “Just don’t let yourself think about the bad.”
- Comparison and devaluation of problems, emotions and ways of living them. A young man was abandoned by a girl, he is going through a breakup, but a friend tells him: “Stop killing yourself like that, if I could forget my ex in a week and stopped being sad, then you can too.”
Broadcasting such installations, people can do it with the best of intentions. Some will sincerely believe that this is how they support a loved one. In 5 Phrases That Will Help More Than ‘Don’t Worry’, we wrote about how to find other words of support.
Another reason for toxic positivity is the desire to avoid contact with other people’s negative emotions. People may resort to it because they feel helpless next to an unhappy person, they are afraid or do not understand his emotions.
How toxic positivity can hurt
Due to toxic positivity, a person in difficult times is deprived of the support that he needs to cope with a difficult situation. Listening to toxic-positive attitudes from friends or independently verifying them, he does not allow himself to fully feel, live through negative emotions.
Psychologists say that a person only amplifies negative emotions when he suppresses or ignores them. In the future, this can lead to uncontrolled outbursts: tantrums, aggression. Also, toxic positivity deprives a person of the ability to empathize and empathize with himself. You can’t always be happy and content with life. If a person forbids himself to experience negativity, then when it does happen (and it will definitely happen), he begins to blame himself. This can negatively affect self-esteem.
It can be difficult to communicate with people who program themselves only for happiness and do not pay attention to their own negative emotions. Interlocutors and friends, especially those endowed with high empathy, feel that something is not right with a person, but they cannot get sincerity and frankness from him.
Emotions are not only a way for our mind to tell us what is happening. They also transmit information to the people around us. If we are sad, it invites consolation. If we communicate guilt, it entails forgiveness. When a person forbids himself to experience difficult emotions, he becomes less accessible and understandable to others.
If you suppress negative emotions and pretend that they do not exist, problems not only of a psychological nature can arise. For example, researchers at Harvard Medical School have proven that stress caused by unrecognized emotions can lead to slow digestion, gas, and vomiting.
Why negative emotions are important
Emotions can be conditionally divided into negative and positive. But this does not mean that negative emotions are “bad”.
Emotions are reactions people experience in response to events or situations. The type of emotion is determined not by the person himself, but by the circumstances in which he is. If a person receives a message that he won a valuable prize in the lottery, then he experiences joy, delight, surprise. If a person sees a pack of stray dogs on the street, then he is afraid, because they can be dangerous for him.
If a person is afraid of something, this does not mean that his fear is “bad”. It’s just a signal that shows what to pay attention to. Such signals motivate to create or not to create a certain experience. If we are afraid of large stray dogs, then we know that it is better not to approach them – we do not need such an experience.
Negative emotions, which include fear, anger, disgust, sadness, irritation, are unpleasant to experience. But, like most emotions, we need them for a normal life. From a psychological point of view, healthy emotions are those that are appropriate for the situation. In life, it does not happen that only pleasant and joyful events occur. And toxic positivity sets people up to feel happy even when the reality around them is full of negativity. But this is unrealistic.
In 1972, American psychologist Paul Ekman proposed that there are six basic emotions. And among them, most of the negative: fear, disgust, anger, sadness. And positive ones are only happiness and surprise. Perhaps there are more negative emotions, because they help us understand ourselves. This is a kind of warning system that gives us a signal that something needs to be addressed.
For example, a person is worried about a breakup and cannot forget a former partner for a long time. Why won’t anxiety and sadness go away? Perhaps the person is afraid of being alone or does not feel significant without a relationship. When a person is nervous before public speaking, they are likely to be very worried about the opinions of others. And if a person was offended and he got angry, then because of the negative emotions experienced, the likelihood that he will no longer allow such an attitude towards himself increases. Living through negative emotions, people understand themselves better.
How to know if you’re exposed to toxic positivity and how to deal with it
Here are a few signs that may indicate the presence of toxic-positive attitudes:
- You feel guilty when you are sad or angry.
- You try to resist difficult emotions and try not to focus on them even when you are confronted with them.
- You prefer to ignore problems and tell yourself that they will be solved anyway.
- You hide your negative emotions from others.
- You may rebuke others if they are not positive.
If you notice any of these signs in yourself, or are facing toxic positivity from loved ones, here are a few ideas to help you resist its influence:
- Remember that negative emotions are important, necessary and normal.. While they may be unpleasant, they should not be ignored or denied. On the contrary, it is important to understand and control them.
- Be kind to yourself and be realistic about reality. If you find yourself in a bad situation, you are offended and you feel angry or sad – this is normal. Do not demand from yourself to be a superman who is always happy. In difficult circumstances that cause stress, it is important to help yourself get out of the situation, and not berate yourself.
- Negative and positive are closely related. Remember or watch the cartoon “Inside Out” – it clearly explains why we cannot always be positive. Moreover, often negative states subsequently bring us positive emotions. For example, a person was laid off and became very upset. But friends came to him, helped him with money, supported him, and now he feels great gratitude and joy, because he is surrounded by good people.
- Remember that life on social media is not equal to reality.. Take a look at the content you are consuming. The picture-perfect picture on social media, where productive people always make it easy, can create unrealistic expectations of life. You may begin to compare yourself to others and feel guilty about your own sadness or anger. Remember that in social networks you see only that part of people’s lives that they are ready to share.
Cover: Anastasiconostas / Burning hut