I promised questions and answers! This is a culmination of a week of reflecting on toxic positivity. First, I asked my Instagram followers this:
- How has toxic positivity affected you? (All answers shared anonymously and with minor edits.)
- “My mother used to do this to me as a child. It would make me feel like my feelings weren’t valid or important enough to be addressed.”
- “When people say ‘thoughts and prayers’ it feels like that’s their way of ignoring the real issue.”
- “I feel it truly led to my recent breakdown, as I felt like I wasn’t honoring my own emotions.”
- “I wasn’t able to ask questions about MY childhood trauma as an adult because ‘I turned out fine, why dig it up?’ As a child grieving a pet death, I thought I was broken because I was told ‘would he want you sad?'”
- “Narcissistic family member telling me to ‘stop being so negative’ when calling out their behavior.”
- “My parents will say like ‘it could be worse.’ Makes it hard to have real discussions and share feelings.”
- “‘It could always be worse.’ Like yeah that’s probably true but it doesn’t help me with whatever I’m dealing with at the moment.”
- “It’s made me feel isolated at times I most needed to know I was understood.”
It’s essential to notice the pattern in all of these: The NEED for honesty and self-honor. How many issues could we resolve earlier in life if we honored feelings with honesty?
I also asked my followers this:
- What do you want to ask others (or me) about toxic positivity?
- How to set a boundary with a friend/loved one that is using toxic positivity as “support.”
- How do you get people close to you to stop or realize how harmful it is?
My answers to both questions reside here and here, but I’ll pose these questions to my followers in my stories today, so look for that before it’s gone!
And then there are the questions I posited at the beginning of the week. They are below with my answers. My take may not resonate with you, so if you want another perspective, check the hashtag toxicpositivity on any social media. There’s a ton of beautiful, helpful content on this topic.
How has toxic positivity kept you down?
For me, it’s added to my anxiety by making me feel guilty for having legitimate feelings. It’s kept me quiet when I wanted to speak up. It’s kept me from defending myself and self-advocacy.
How has a culture of toxic positivity kept you from facing the pain of growth?
Until I started self-compassion work in therapy in 2020, I didn’t think of so-called negative emotions as valid because I was told to stay positive. This affected me even more than some others because I like to be honest (embarrassingly so), which is not Iowa or Midwest Nice. People would ask, “How are you?” and I didn’t want to lie and say, “I’m good!” So, I’d say, “I’m alive,” and no one knew what to do with that. People often called me “negative,” which I never understood, so I assumed there was something wrong with me.
Now, I know emotions are morally neutral. What I’ve learned is this: What I thought was a flaw in me was others feeling uncomfortable with honesty. Having this knowledge now helps me re-find my wholeness instead of feeling broken and misunderstood.
How has American toxic positivity furthered your trauma?
I’ve kept half the shit that has happened to me to myself. I thought being open about my pain meant I was a downer and an attention-whore. (There is no such thing as an attention-whore, but that’s a post for another day.)
In America, we’re in a society that is so wrapped up in appearance that we are more concerned with looking good than feeling good. Moreover, we mistake looking good with not upsetting people even if it makes us feel terrible. As I’ve never cared much about my appearance, I’m so glad I started putting validity and respect on my feelings and traumas.
What can you do about it?
I can be honest. I can keep working to eliminate toxic positivity from my responses. I can think before I speak. I can stop centering my feelings when I’m listening to others. I can keep working toward recognizing the neutrality of emotions. I can remind my support system to listen when I need that. I can keep working toward not feeling bad when I tell people that I’m not looking for advice, tips, or suggestions.