Toxic Positivity: To Not Become Numb About The Downs of Life

Has it ever happened to you, that when you are speaking about some problem, you have been told, “People have it worse”, “Look at the bright side…” or, “This shall too pass” ? What did it make you feel? Or, is it something you tell yourself?  So, why is it something which is not very helpful sometimes. The simple reason, positivity is an emotion, and emotions cannot be forced.

Positivity and optimism are essentials for a satisfying and peaceful life. To be bitter and negative about things, and life in general, not only slowly burn out one from inside, but also have unfavourable effects on their social life and relations. But being over-positive doesn’t always help too. Life has its own share of ups and downs. And it’s not always possible to see the good side, because sometimes, there aren’t any.

According to California based psychiatrist Gayani DeSilva, toxic positivity is “ insincere positivity that leads to harm, needless suffering, or misunderstanding”. Positivity is a healthy practice to have. It can help to sort the thoughts, plan well, and give the energy to face the world with a smile. But bad days are also a part of life. Somedays, it is just too overwhelming to keep a smile on the face, or a bright thought in the mind. Toxic positivity is, when someone fails, or refuses, to acknowledge this. Cheering up a friend? Not listening to what they are actually saying and rather encouraging them to forget it or pointing out the silver linings will not help much in the long run. It will only serve to discourage them to not share their actual, authentic emotions regarding incidents. 

When faced with toxic positives on a personal level, people often tend to feel guilty about ‘feeling down’ or not being ‘upbeat’. This happens so, because they get conditioned to believe that the negative feelings are inherently bad. This avoidance and guilt, itself, takes a toll on the mind. That beats the ultimate goal of being positive, to be at peace and happy. 

Also, it gets harmful when optimism and positivity shrouds over reality. Positivity should help us grow, rather than giving an illusion that everything is as good as it can be, thus stagnating the personal growth. Constructive criticism, from the inner self and from the well wishers, are not perceived as negative or jealousy. Things and works are not always perfect, and if that can be made better, then it should be tried to make that better. Hence, it won’t do anyone any harm listening to someone pointing out a problem, which can be overcomed. 

Acceptance should be within oneself, be it for our own experiences or for someone’s narration of ordeal. Dismissing or downplaying someone’s experience, even unconsciously, in the favour of looking only to the positive outcomes, doesn’t do justice to that person. Instead, the attitude should be listening. Whatever it is. Because they have lived that, and they know what they are speaking of. The essence of sharing should be to let go of the emotional burden, instead of hiding the worse parts out of the fear and shame of judgement.

Even when living it through. The acceptance of the negative parts of an emotional journey helps us to emerge stronger, wiser and more experienced. Positivity can only hold its true meaning when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to feel down. It’s the same as how we appreciate the beauty of the sun rays after spending a night devoid of it. That is the beauty of emotions, to be able to feel.

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