Toxic Positivity by Whitney Goodman talks about owning ones emotions-even the difficult ones-in order to show up authentically in the world. An excerpt
This is what toxic positivity does to us. It traps us in a life of pretending until we can’t do it anymore. It tells us that if someone has it
worse, we can’t be sad. If there’s something to be grateful for, gratitude must be the only emotion. It tells you that you should be happy and
that you should be over this by now. It leaves you hiding behind a mass of fake joy, isolated and alone. Toxic positivity increases feelings
of shame, inadequacy, and isolation. It might originate from good intentions, but it doesn’t do us any favors.
We use toxic positivity against ourselves when we say things like:
• “I should be over this by now.”
• “I should be happy.”
• “I have so much to be grateful for.”
• “Other people have it worse.”
• “I shouldn’t be feeling like this. My life is so full.”
• “Other people would love to have my problems. It’s not that bad.”
Toxic positivity harms us in so many ways, including:
• Ending the curiosity and exploration of the emotion
• Shaming you for being “negative”
• Making you not want to reach out to others
• Suppressing emotion and making it more intense and harder to manage
Toxic positivity tells us that what we’re feeling is wrong and that we shouldn’t be feeling it. It demands that we have a “good enough” reason for any type of distress. When we believe that there are certain emotions that we should feel and others that we shouldn’t, we’re doomed to experience shame when we experience more of the latter and less of the former. This is why we end up trying to suppress and cover up all of our difficult emotions with shopping, food, alcohol, social media, and any other form of numbing we can get our hands on. We want to exit the distress as soon as possible so we can avoid the shame of feeling it in the first place. Shaming ourselves for experiencing a normal, biologically programmed response to a stimulus isn’t going to lead us anywhere. It’s just going to end in more shame, pretending, and hiding.
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When we use toxic positivity against ourselves, it obstructs curiosity and exploration of the emotion. Think about it. When you’re feeling sad and someone says “just be happy,” are you going to keep talking about how sad you are? No. You’re probably going to shut down and end the conversation. We’re trying to deny the existence of an emotion because it doesn’t line up with what we think should be there. But here’s the thing: emotions aren’t intellectual. You can’t think them away or deny them out of existence. Emotions don’t always tell the truth and sometimes we interpret them incorrectly, but they’re there for a reason. Telling yourself that you shouldn’t be feeling something won’t change that reality.
Whenever I tried to cover up what I was feeling with positivity, I was always left with guilt or shame or both. Guilt tells us that we did something bad; shame says we are bad. When we condemn ourselves for having a feeling or try to cover it up with positive thinking and gratitude, it leaves us feeling ashamed, isolated, and afraid to share our feelings with anyone else. If everyone else is happy, we should be, too. If we have negative feelings, well, then there must be something wrong with us.
Toxic positivity also completely inhibits connection. If I believe that everyone else is happy (because that’s what they’re telling me and showing me) and I’m struggling, you better believe I’m not telling anyone. Because if I tell them that I’m not OK, I assume that will lead to judgment or criticism. It’s so hard to connect when we feel isolated and like we’re the only one experiencing something. Toxic positivity tells us that we should be happy all the time and anything else is a failure. But what if we’re all feeling so many things and we’re doing it alone when we don’t have to?
What if we’re all a lot more alike in our distress than we are different? If I know that you also feel pain, it would make it a lot easier
for me to share my struggles and my successes. It would really take the pressure off and allow me to just be.
‘Excerpted with permission, from Toxic Positivity by Whitney Goodman, published by Hachette India’