Why trying to be positive can actually be a negative thing…

By Ahmed Wafi

And how we are all guilty of it.

Ever had a friend come to you and tell you what a bad day she is having? Or how difficult it is to look for a job especially now?

The immediate reply to the grouse is “Don’t worry – you’ll get over it!” and “Oh, it’s tough for everyone; just hang in there”. Basically, things you’d say to help your friend feel not too bad about her current condition and maybe motivated.

That’s the right thing to do… right?

Wrong. That’s what some experts coin toxic positivity… and that’s what a lot of us are guilty of.

For definition sake, toxic positivity refers to the actions and mindset one is in to appear happy-go-lucky despite all the negativity that surrounds them. It’s also the act of borderline pestering a person to look on the bright side and ignore any problems at hand.

Like now, being in a pandemic and posting on social media, “Let’s stay upbeat about things; it could be worse!”

So you’re focusing on so-called positive emotions and rejecting anything that’s negative because “that’s simply not the right way to live life.” In other words, you aren’t allowed to be negative at all, regardless of how bad the situation may be because “there’s always a silver lining in every cloud.”

You can be toxic positive to a friend as well as to yourself. When a friend comes to you with a complaint, you tell her to chin up. Or when you’re having a bad day, you tell yourself it’s OK, pretending that everything’s fine and dandy when it’s not.

Who would have thought that too much positivity could be a bad thing. But the truth is nobody is happy all the time. There’s always going to be a point where we feel down, had a bad day or is generally struggling to get through the day. And that’s perfectly fine!

Why is toxic positivity so bad then? Ignoring our problems and shoving it to the back of our mind will only result in these problems manifesting in our lives one way or another. When you avoid the unpleasant stuff, you’re actually making them bigger but keeping it suppressed. Know what happens to a can of soda when it is continuously being shaken but not open?

Yups, that’s all that negative feelings being canned up with all that positivity that’s just bursting to open and when it does, feelings explode! So imagine this happening either to you when everyone’s telling you to look on the bright side or when you constantly do this to a friend who simply just wants to rant and for someone to listen instead of being given “positive” rah-rah-rahs.

Not addressing negative emotions is holding you back. Feelings are what makes us human so embrace the good, the sad and everything in between. When we learn to embrace the inevitable challenges and obstacles in life that will undoubtedly leave us feeling a different way, we start to better understand ourselves.

The thing is, sometimes we just want to complain and not have someone else dishing advice. That’s not the way to chase away the blues… nor will cute emojis do the same. It may be a short-term “OK things are not so bad situation” but at the end of the day, the issue is still there. And the earlier you address them, the better.

So the next time a friend or colleague comes to you about a problem, stop and listen first. Validate her feelings instead of pushing them aside with your toxic positivity. Say it’s OK to be feeling the way they are without disregarding them or telling them things like “It will pass”. Check out this helpful chart to avoid phrases that emit toxic positivity.

The best approach? Tell the truth. It may be difficult to listen to the truth but sugar coating a situation won’t exactly help.

If it’s you who is struggling with trying to remain positive when things aren’t going your way – stop. Instead of pushing aside your negative feelings, why not take a moment to analyse why you’re feeling the way you’re feeling and understand the different triggers that led you to those emotions.

If you’re having trouble coping with these emotions, it’s always a good idea to talk to someone you trust. Unless of course you’re an introverted writer who enjoys writing about mental health and prefer not to share your feelings with others, then opt for other methods of as a means to cope with the roller coaster that is your mental health. Like writing! Jotting down what makes you sad or negative is a good way to address these feelings, which is why having a journal can help in these situations.

Also, why not channel your negativity into a hobby or passion? Yoga and sports are popular ways in releasing stress and just letting things go. Or maybe pick up sourdough breadmaking, which seemed to be a really popular pandemic hobby! Whatever you choose, make sure it gives you joy – even for an hour or two to take your mind away from what’s troubling you.

Remember, work is not more important than your well-being

Photo by Ian Espinosa and Sydney Sims on Unsplash

Share this article: