Toxic Positivity: When Being Positive is a Negative

We’ve all seen them: the positive quotes, the affirmations, the inspirational posts prompting us to look on the bright side. We all love them right? Maybe not. I was scrolling Instagram the other day, when I saw a post about toxic positivity. It was my first time ever hearing the term. I was lost. Toxic and positive almost seem like an oxymoron to me. 

blog graphic - toxic bottle

As a self-proclaimed realist, I’m definitely not the Positive Patty of any group. I tend to see most situations with both perspectives: the glass is half empty and half full on any day. I probably should have been a lawyer or the captain of the debate team. But anyway, I’m never overly optimistic. 

Image result for positive vibes only

Are you offended by the above image? Well a person operating in toxic positivity would perceive this as you literally saying the only acceptable vibe is positive.

What is toxic positivity?

What is toxic positivity?

The term “toxic positivity” refers to the idea that people should ONLY be happy, positive and always look on the bright side. It means only focusing on the positive and rejecting anything negative.

I’ll give an example: say you come to a friend or family member to confide in them that you’re feeling down about your chronic illness and they reply with something like “have faith that everything will work out” or “don’t say that…” or “look on the bright side” or “atleast you’re not xyz”. 

The problem

You may ask, well what’s wrong with being positive? Nothing at all! Thinking positive is NOT bad and neither is wanting your loved one to be in good spirits. It’s not a secret that a person’s mental and emotional state has an effect on their physical health. Depression and stress have the ability to make some illnesses worse. It’s natural to want to balance negativity with positivity. But like most things, there can be too much of a good thing.  

Toxic positivity allows for denial or avoidance of any unpleasant emotions (angry, sadness, envy etc). It’s similar to “fake it til you make it”. Pretend to be happy until you are happy. Just because you avoid them, doesn’t mean they go away. As humans we are designed to experience the entire spectrum of emotions. Emotions are healthy. They tell you information about yourself and your present situation. 

Give you another example: I’ve been afraid of dogs my entire life. When I see one, my body tenses up and fear courses through my body. For whatever reason, I interpret dogs as threats. Probably goes back to the time I was chased by a dog and had to jump a fence. I digress, that emotion lets me know I need to avoid that dog’s path at all cost.

Guilty

If you’ve been following my journey over the past few years, you know I’ve teetered with depression and isolation. In an effort to pull myself out of this dark place, I adopted certain tactics like gratitude, mediation, journaling and affirmations. I share inspirational and motivational quotes on IG and love operating in positivity when I can. So when I heard about toxic positivity, I had to do a self assessment to make sure I wasn’t guilty of it.

I feel confident that I’m not.  My comfortability in disregarding the label of toxic positivity lies in the explanation of the concept. The word “only” gives me solace. My struggles with depression have been well documented (on the blog, on IG and youtube). I believe in giving myself compassion and allowing myself to feel what I feel WITHIN reason. But I don’t want to stay there. 

Personally, I want someone to try to shine some positivity on the situation when I’m unable to see it because I’m stuck in my own head or feelings. When I use my mood tracker, and I notice I’ve logged 5 days of straight poop emojis, I know I might be in a funk.That’s what I use positivity for, not to deny or avoid my problems but to make them a bit more tolerable; to shine a ray of sunshine not the whole blinding sun.

photo via unsplash.com

Dealing with a Spoonie

I’m hard pressed to believe that anyone expects a person to only be happy so the concept of toxic positivity seems a little far fetched. HOWEVER, as a person with chronic illness I can 1000% understand why the concept of toxic positivity is a thing. 

Speaking from personal experience, the last thing you want to hear when you’re in the midst of an unpleasant situation is positivity sprinkles from a “healthy” person. If I open up and express my darkness, don’t be so quick to cast out my darkness with blinding ultraviolet lights of positivity. It’s annoying to say the least. Something really bad is happening to me and I’m allowed to feel negatively about it.

I’m spiraling through one of the most traumatic times of my life and you want me to focus on a rainbow. That’s basically what it feels like when you’re going through it and someone is pushing a positivity only agenda. It just doesn’t help. And it makes you feel like a bad person for being in a negative space. Ya know. 

As with everything chronic illness related, it’s complicated. 

What are your thoughts on toxic positivity? Have you been a victim or are you guilty of being toxic?

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Morg
Morg

Morgan Greene is a Maryland chronic illness and holistic wellness lifestyle blogger. After years of struggling with her autoimmune disease diagnosis, Myasthenia Gravis, she decided to combine two of her favorite things…writing and informing others

IsWasWillBe.com was created to have unfiltered discussions about having a chronic illness. It has since become a place to inspire and create a sense of community among women with autoimmune diseases. Morgan loves trying new things and sharing with other spoonies how to live an ill life on their terms.

When she’s not blogging she is probably reading a book, drinking a Coke Slurpee or listening to music.

14 Comments

  1. January 14, 2020 / 7:27 am

    First time I’m hearing the word toxic positivity, but to be sincere it is a common thing around the world. We forget that there bad days and these days are normal.

    thanks for this post

    • Morg
      Author
      January 15, 2020 / 4:27 pm

      I think the term is still new. But yes. Life is full of ups and downs. Emotions are healthy and normal. Thank you for reading!

  2. January 15, 2020 / 8:03 am

    I love this. I had a friend who always had to be positive because she looked down on negative things, but sometimes it’s okay to have not so feel good emotions. It’s human nature. Thank you for this post

    • Morg
      Author
      January 15, 2020 / 4:26 pm

      Yes! I agree. It’s natural. We aren’t stepford wives or robots! Thanks for reading Brianna

  3. January 15, 2020 / 8:30 am

    Such an interesting topic here! In the past I can absolutely say I’ve felt this but I never knew this was actually a ‘thing.’

    • Morg
      Author
      January 15, 2020 / 4:25 pm

      I didn’t know it was a thing either Marisa until a month or so ago. At first I wanted to dismiss it but I had to mull it over a little. I’m torn as to where I really stand on it. I can see people being too sensitive and too being too assertive in their own agenda.

  4. January 16, 2020 / 12:16 pm

    I love this concept! I’m looking forward to reading more that you write!

  5. hi661a16d5a3bb1
    January 18, 2020 / 10:51 pm

    I really wasn’t sure what to expect based on the title of this post but wow….this was good! Such an interesting concept!

  6. Shanelle
    January 19, 2020 / 1:10 am

    This is interesting. I’ve never considered this perspective, that positivity could be a negative thing, but I see how it could be dismissive and that we need to deal with all emotions, not just push them aside.

    • Morg
      Author
      January 20, 2020 / 1:51 pm

      Yes. That’s really the key. Learning to deal with and process our emotions in a healthy way instead of avoiding them. Thank you for reading.

  7. Liza Karle
    January 19, 2020 / 6:32 pm

    I have a good friend who absolutely can’t cope with me being at all depressed. It makes her so uncomfortable, she tries to ‘talk me out of it’ with Pollyanna vibes. It makes me feel I’m wrong to be depressed.

    • Morg
      Author
      January 20, 2020 / 1:50 pm

      A lot of people don’t know how to handle anything that’s not positive (illness, sadness, bad news). I think it’s a defense mechanism. Hopefully this doesn’t come between the two of you.

  8. Lee
    February 25, 2020 / 4:22 pm

    I’ve sadly come across this and even lost “friends” who apparently only want positivity in their lives and don’t like any discussion or display of negative emotions, even if it’s only occasionally. Also had “friends” suggesting certain illnesses can be cured by positive thinking. Whilst positive thinking can certainly help and is undoubtedly a good thing, as a human being we need to be able and feel free to express and live with a whole array of emotions.

    • Morg
      Author
      February 26, 2020 / 5:21 pm

      I agree wholeheartedly. Some people can’t handle the spectrum of emotions. Fairytales and perfection work best for their lifestyles. To each their own I suppose.

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