During the pandemic, the media has seemingly bombarded us with the compulsory need to be positive. While positivity can certainly help individuals cope with uncertainties and fears, there is a point where positivity extends into the territory known as toxic positivity. What was once helpful is now detrimental. With toxic positivity, people’s negative emotions and experiences are downplayed and disregarded. Instead, only positive feelings and experiences are encouraged.
While having good intentions, toxic positivity actually oversimplifies how the brain works, and is harmful to mental health. Because of the denial, minimization, and invalidation of negative emotions, individuals learn to ineffectively cope and feel guilty about having such feelings. Counterproductive, it can lead to isolation and stress, and delay and/or prevent people from seeking help and validating their own experiences.
There is a need to address toxic positivity. Research has shown that accepting negative emotions is more beneficial for mental health than adopting the toxic positivity mindset. It is important to normalize and label negative feelings, and remove expectations that people should feel better than they actually do.
Toxic positivity statements can be directed towards others, stated by others, and aimed towards oneself. Some signs of toxic positivity statements may be dismissing emotions, minimizing someone’s experience, giving one’s perspective instead of validating someone’s emotions, shaming someone for expressing frustration, and brushing things off. Some examples include:
- “Just get on with it.”
- “It could be worse.”
- “It is what it is.”
- “Don’t worry, be happy!”
- “Positive vibes only!”
With recognizing certain statements as toxic comes the capability of modifying language to create less damaging talk. Instead of using toxic positivity statements, alternative statements that validate someone’s emotions and experiences can be used, such as:
- “I see you, and I’m here for you.”
- “Describe what you’re feeling, I’m listening.”
- “This is really hard, I’m thinking of you.”
- “Failure is a part of growth and success.”
- “I see that you’re stressed, is there anything I can do?”
When it comes to self-directed toxic positivity, there are many non-harmful alternative solutions to help cope with negative feelings. Some healthier ways to cope are:
- Being realistic and honest with your emotions and expressing what is bothering you.
- Exploring your emotions through journaling or mental exercises.
- Engaging in self-care.
- Engaging in mindfulness techniques to recognize, accept, and respond to your feelings in a healthy way.
- Acknowledging your emotions and validating them.
Having negative emotions is a normal part of life. It is okay to not be okay. Embrace being human, be compassionate towards yourself, and validate every feeling you have- the good, the bad, and everything in between.
Guest Blogger: Jennifer Wendell, MHA Intern
Jennifer Wendell is a Senior, double majoring in Human Services- Clinical Concentration and Sociology at the University of Delaware. She is currently interning with MHA, and hopes to become a helping professional in the mental health field.
Guest Blogger: Maddy Mandell, MHA Intern
Maddy is a Senior at University of Delaware, studying Health Behavior Science, with two minors in Human Development & Family Sciences and Disabilities Studies. She will be attending New York University, starting in the Fall of 2021, to earn a Master’s degree in Social Work.