Positivity is a glorious emotion to be enjoyed in our lives. Who doesn’t like to be happy always? Unfortunately, being ‘positive’ always and ignoring the negative things around us completely might actually be more harmful than we think. Psychologists are terming this attitude as ‘positive toxicity’ and it has been observed more in the society during this pandemic time.
The problem with positive toxicity is that it tries to oversimplify the current situation and does not give a chance for the person to understand or go through the actual emotions at that time. I am sure that many of us have come across advice from our family and friends such as, ‘it is only a phase, this shall pass’ or ‘Stay positive! Some people out there are having it worse than others’ or just simply ‘Don’t worry, everything is going to be fine’. Though such words are initially soothing for us the more we hear it the more we block ourselves from facing the reality. Positive toxicity can eventually lead the person to become silent about all their problems and simply think that everything will change for the better very soon.
The human mind is not programmed to experience only joyous, positive feelings and emotions all the time. We go through a range of emotions everyday in life and those experiences make us better fit to face difficult situations. Accepting and acknowledging difficult emotions help us to cope better in life and can help in decreasing the intensity of these emotions. But by denying the situation and not acknowledging it becomes difficult to accept negative emotions and the accumulation of such emotions can lead to mental health problems or negative coping mechanisms without even our realisation.
Talking openly about negative stressors can provide a huge relief to the person experiencing it. The listener can help by being empathetic towards the person without trivialising the problems of the person. It is important to realise the difference between giving optimistic advice Vs. toxic positivity advice. Instead of advising someone as ‘Cheer up’, ‘Don’t worry it will be fine’, ‘It is not that serious as you think it is’ try empathising words such as, ‘It is understandable that you are upset now’, ‘Do you want to tell me more about it?’ ‘All of these feelings are valid’. Empathy will resonate with the person you are talking to and will have a positive impact compared to asking them to ignore or trivialise their feelings.
One way to deal with the toxic positivity is to try to cultivate positive emotions rather than trying to ignore negative emotions. For example, if we are really anxious about an exam it means that we really care about scoring good grades, if we are sad about leaving a job it might mean that our time spent there was a meaningful part of our life. While we cannot cultivate such practical and positive outlook in our lives overnight, through mindful practice of empathising with others we can grow this quality. As the COVID-19 situation grows worrying, we can acknowledge the survivors of the ordeal and the practical measures that we are taking to safeguard ourselves against the pandemic. As there is hope at the end of the tunnel, it is important to acknowledge the current situation to keep ourselves healthy physically and mentally.