For some reason in our society, we have a “good vibes only” mentality. Let me be clear, I do love good vibes, but sometimes, my vibes are not good. Sometimes, my vibes are a bit shit. And that is okay.
It is important to normalize ALL the feelings, not just the ones we label as “good.” If the expectation in your life is that you are supposed to be happy all the time, you will never be able to live up to that standard and will likely feel a sense of disappointment with yourself anytime you feel anything other than happy.
Of course, there are many benefits to thinking positively and to focusing your attention on the positive aspects in your life. However, toxic positivity takes positive thinking to an extreme. It is an overgeneralization of positive thinking, and tends to minimize and invalidate our experiences by being hyper-focused on ONLY allowing the good stuff in.
Toxic positivity is when you are telling someone a struggle you are having, and they respond with “Just think positive!” or they remind you of all the good you have in your life without validating that you are struggling in any way. Or you are struggling with grief or loss, and a person responds with “Everything happens for a reason.” Now, most people are guilty of saying things like this from time to time, and this can happen because we are uncomfortable with difficult emotions or are trying to avoid something ourselves, or maybe we just don’t know what to say.
However, what ends up happening is feelings of guilt for having a tough time, or feeling completely invalidated in what you’re going through. It leads to thoughts of “well I SHOULD be happy, so why aren’t I?” which inevitably leads to “What’s wrong with me?”
Some ways to manage toxic positivity?
- Allow yourself space to feel the feelings. All of them. Without labeling them as “good” or “bad,” just allow yourself to feel whatever you need to feel. Start paying attention to what specific emotions feel like in your body so you can become more clued in to your internal experiences.
- Set realistic expectations for yourself. For instance, “I just want to be happy all the time!” is not realistic. When you are faced with something challenging and it leads to feelings of sadness, overwhelm, or any other range of emotions, that is okay. I repeat: That is okay.
- Pay attention to the language you use about your experience. If you are saying you “should” or “shouldn’t” feel something, that is typically a red flag that you are trying to stuff or avoid a particular emotion. There are no “should’s and shouldn’t’s” when it comes to emotions.
- Let your feelings out. Sometimes that might mean writing them down in a journal, other times it may mean calling a loved one who you know will truly listen and provide space for your experiences. Putting your feelings into words in these ways can help you process your way through them.
- Learn and practice acceptance skills. Although most of us do not enjoy painful experiences, we can learn and grow from them. Begin asking yourself, “What am I learning from this emotional experience? What is this teaching me about who I am and what I care about?” This allows us more flexibility and begins to shift our relationship with painful or uncomfortable emotions.
When we allow ourselves to experience the full range of our emotions, we are able to lead a more fulfilling life. We are allowed to feel grateful for what we have in our lives and also struggle with difficult emotions at the same time. We do not always have to be okay. We are human…weird and complex and imperfect. Let’s embrace it.