Recently, a great graphic about toxic positivity vs validation and hope came out ( see below) and I wanted to shout YES, because I felt as though I could have written it myself (though probably not as lovely haha). Why, you ask would I get so.dang.excited. over this post? Well because I’m hoping it’s marking a shift in the way we start to see ourselves, our emotions, and our health. Let me explain.
A couple years ago I wrote a blog entitled The Happy Meme Cult (you can find it here https://www.eldoradocountytherapy.com/happy-meme-cult/), about the hidden emotional dangers of toxic positivity. The feedback I got from this blog about how much toxic positivity has hurt them, reinforced the notion that we need to continue talking about it.
SO WHAT IS toxic positivity? I’d be willing to bet you, over the past month you’ve seen at least one item/IG post/ social media caption with something along the lines of “good vibes only” or “choose happiness”. I recently came across someone’s bio that listed (among other things) that they “like happy people”.
While many folks may think that this is a great way to spread positivity and happiness, in the long run we actually make it harder for people to focus on true fulfillment, satisfaction and emotional intelligence.
In the past few years, the term “mindfulness” has exploded into our everyday vocabulary- and for good reason. Numerous research has shown that practicing mindfulness can help us control anxiety, depression, anger, and a host of other mental and emotional issues. What does mindfulness mean? In simple terms, it means to focus on and observe your emotions, thoughts, feelings, without judgement. Did you catch the last part, “without judgement”? When we are so focused on being “positive” or “happy”, we almost always start to hide or ignore our other emotions- which are just as important. Our other feelings often tell us, when something is wrong, when we need a change, when we need support, or when we simply just need to pause and reflect.
Being obsessed with positivity means that we often feel guilty because we don’t feel “happy”, instead of acknowledging that our other feelings have validity too. Putting “positivity” as front and center of acceptable emotions, tells our children that it’s not ok for them to feel sad, or mad, or anxious. I can tell you that after years of working as a therapist it ABSOLUTLEY matters how we talk and model emotional acceptance to our children. Not only that, it gives the message to people who are dealing with depression, grief, or other serious life challenges that their problems could just be solved by “choosing” to be happy.
So, what then, do we do to help ourselves, our friends and loved ones? One incredibly important tool is to simply listen and validate their emotions. Again, we have studies that prove that when we feel heard and understood by someone else, we are able to process our emotions much more effectively.
I would also encourage you to try and stay away from toxic (or superficial) positivity. The graphic I mentioned above and have shared down below has some WONDERFUL suggestions for encouraging hope, healthiness and validation.
Slow down and take inventory of your thoughts and feelings often and without judgement. Practice self-compassion. Happiness doesn’t get any more points than sadness, frustration, loneliness or any other feeling. Let’s all work to move away from toxic and superficial positivity, and towards helping ourselves and others feel loved, validated, and hopeful.
Want to know more about who I am and what my experience is working with couples and folks with anxiety? Please check my about me page here!