Toxic Positivity - Who Are We Happy For?
During this pandemic, we have seen a lot of people talking about the importance of staying optimistic by indulging ourselves in activities we find pleasurable. We see a lot of NGOs, actors, psychologists, and influencers going live on these platforms talking about the importance of focusing on the "positive side" of this phase, for instance, how mother earth is healing. There is no harm in finding the good in everything but what we forget is that both negative and positive emotions and thoughts have their importance in life because if we do not have our sad hours, we are never going to realize the worth of our happy hours.
A phenomenon named "toxic positivity* is something which most of us would have experienced for once in our lives till now. It refers to the concept of believing that " staying positive every time is the desirable way of living". It means only focusing on positive things and rejecting anything that may trigger negative emotions. Some of the traits of toxic positive individuals are:
Hiding/Masking your true feelings
Trying to “just get on with it” by stuffing/dismissing an emotion(s)
Feeling guilty for feeling what you feel
Minimizing other people’s experiences with “feel good” quotes or statements
Trying to give someone perspective (e.g., “it could be worse”) instead of validating their emotional experience
Shaming or chastising others for expressing frustration or anything other than positivity
Brushing off things that are bothering you with a “It is what it is”
Though, when we read the definition, we do not find any shortcomings in it because being optimistic will never do us any harm. So where does the problem lie? To start with, it is first important to understand the concept with an example. In the season-3, episode 6 of the American sitcom Rick and Morty named “Rest and Ricklaxation”, the creators have beautifully addressed what toxic positivity means. When both Rick and Morty get rid of their toxins (which is the personification of negative emotions faced by both characters), we see how Morty becomes an overly confident and positive being which is the complete opposite of what he actually is. When the healthy Rick gets to know that their toxin selves are trying to reach them(just as our suppressed negative emotions try to reach us out after a certain point of time) and asks Morty that they should accept them as they are a part of them, Morty denies and instead helps Rick to understand that he should deal with this trauma by urban spin yoga and when Rick further does not understand his point, he breaks the phone and asks him to chill on. This is similar to what a person who is toxic positive would do: they deny that anything ‘negative” ever exists and try to suppress them in order to avoid discomfort.
Till here too, we might wonder that as humans, we are all born with a defensive mechanism which protect us from everything which might hamper our equilibrium. So where does the problem lie?
Whenever we repress a negative emotion, we are telling your systems that "it does not exist". In this process with time passing by, the unacknowledged emotion becomes so vast that it comes out in ways that cause us a lot of distress. We need to understand that emotions in themselves are valuable information that communicates to our psychological well-being to us. Just like the flowers need both the scorching sun and pleasant showers to blossom, in a similar way, we too require emotions of all kinds to prosper.
During the lockdown and even in our daily lives, we would have encountered a lot of individuals, in some cases even us, that how we become toxic positive even without realizing it. Ask yourself how many times you would have said to a friend who is upset to ‘Always look on the bright side’ when instead, you should have said “It can be difficult to make sense in this situation but we will try to find the sense in it’? Or during the lockdown how many times have you heard or said that ‘Be grateful you have a roof over your head! Many people do not have that too’ or ‘Everything will be normal again. Stop being so negative’?
Instead of living with the fallacy that " everything is positive around us" let us for once acknowledge that "things are not going well today" or "I'm not feeling my usual self these days". By acknowledging what we feel, we can understand the " why" behind them by accepting them.
We need to understand that our emotions help us to have a sense of everything around us. Just as it is important to laugh at jokes, it is as important to feel sad or irritated for having a bad day. Our emotions are our most loyal counselors which provide us with insights no one ever will. As Shoma Morita, the founder of Morita Therapy says, "We don't create our feelings; they simply come to us, and we have to accept them". So, let us start accepting our feelings and emotions as they are and try to understand what they are willing to communicate to us.
By - Itti Mahajan Graphic by - Nainika Hira