Recognizing, understanding, and removing yourself from toxic positivity.
So, for a long time in life, I would hear the word “toxic” and eyeroll through my skull. It just seemed like another focused trend that sought to bring some overly dramatic nomenclature to things that could be addressed simply. It still sort of is, but what it does is make you pay attention. Well, I’m going to skip forward a bit and talk about another permutation of toxic traits that a lot of people don’t see the problem with: Toxic Positivity.
So, what is toxic positivity? It is a complete obsession with thinking positively. Toxically positive people shut down almost any contrary or negative thoughts, including healthy and situationally specific ones such as grief or tragedy. They will often disregard critical thinking if such thoughts mull over the possibility that something could be intrinsically wrong with an action or activity, and they can do this to the point of creating false realities that they enforce with simple demeaning phrases. “Don’t worry about it.” “Let’s just focus on thinking positively.” “Stop being so negative all the time.” “You’re always so pessimistic.” “Let’s smile through it.” They also tend toward pointing out other silent or positive people as being more likeable or “better” than you. They brush off your concerns with, “It could be worse” or even by choosing to shut you down with a,“You should learn to focus on more positive thoughts.” It all gets rather demeaning and can be utterly disorienting if you don’t know what you’re dealing with. Even when you do.
Now, don’t get confused and think I’m saying that positivity is inherently bad. I’m saying when it becomes an obsession, particularly in a group mentality, it begins to be detrimental to the natural state of being. All things must have some moderation, and even just going to the movies, a group or person must be willing and able to consider what things could go wrong. It is our problem-solving nature to look at and set ourselves up to overcome such problems, but if you find yourself in a toxically positive group mentality like I have, it becomes frustrating and even detrimental to your mental health.
I remember working on a project with a group of these minded people, and I would point out all the flaws inherent with what we were doing, so we could discuss and tackle them. Instead, I would be told that I was, “always so negative”, and then, I would find myself completely ignored. First of all, it hurts to be ignored, but it gets worse as time goes by. I began to become frustrated, prone to bouts of anger and confusion. I felt lonely and even started to question if I was inherently a bad person or a cancer for this group. I watched the problems I had tried to point out continue to grow and become almost unsolvable, while I also continued to be told I was, “just angry all the time” and to, “just enjoy myself and relax”. Luckily for me, I had finally had enough, and when the last straw was placed upon my back, I left. The project didn’t succeed despite all that positive thinking, but what I learned from that situation helped me succeed with others who were willing to face the bad to grasp the good from it.
My best advice to you is that if you have someone in your life, including yourself, who is prone to toxic positivity, try to have a conversation with them about it. I find if you can get someone to see the other side, they become more willing to change their perspective. However, if the other person is unwilling to hear and accept this, leave. I’m not sure how you’d leave yourself if you’re the portrayer of these habits, but at least consider deconstructing yourself to see if it actually makes you and those around you happier, or if you’re just running away from reality until you can’t escape it any longer. Toxic positivity is an exercise in shutting things down, and while these people don’t mean to be doing it, they are throwing the baby out with the bath water. There is a time to think positively, but everything in life is a balancing act, and any time you tip the scales, you’re going to make things harder to balance out.
I’m going to end this article listing a few basic reasons how toxic positivity can be a problem, in case it wasn’t clear. If you see the pattern in your life, look for the signs and either find a way to correct the behavior or leave before it leads to further problems. I can say, honestly and truly, that this is harder than it seems on paper but well worth the time it takes to exit or modify.
Toxic people engage in one-sided communication. This can result in the death of a problem-solving mentality and lead to a negative outlook on things over time as problems compound. Anything that threatens open and strong communication hurts interpersonal relationships in time.
Toxic positivity will make others begin to feel alone. They end up making people feel ashamed of themselves and their own thinking, which can lead to mental duress. It can even instill a feeling that getting help would be pointless. This will also eventually threaten and create low self esteem in an individual as they begin to feel lesser than to the more “positive” members of the group.
Toxic people tend to demean loss. Feeling sad after experiencing loss is a normal part of the human experience. Those who suffer while hearing happy messages sometimes begin to think others do not sympathize with their pain, and it tends to compound their grief.
Toxically Positive people tend to learn to ignore real harm. From abusive relationships that could include domestic violence, to ignoring a problem until it bursts, causing irreparable damage. The world is not inherently positive and requires a critical mind to evaluate and avoid the negativity that exists within.