The Cult of Toxic Positivity

Often the older generations liked to reassure young people that “the future is bright and everything will be fine.  But the conversation below says otherwise.


“How do you know that everything will be fine?”


“I don’t.”


“Well don’t say it then! I’m not a child!” (excerpt from unknown) 


We live in a world where life is a mystery and nothing is certain. Yet there is this shroud of toxic positivity and bragging that surrounds our culture. One had advised those experiencing newly grieving and loss to slow down. We have the right to choose not to live this “alchemised”, “I’m okay” life to other people. Similarly, we are not required to “provide your parents with a ‘success story’ to share at gatherings”. Toxic positivity is the act of “avoiding, suppressing, or rejecting negative emotions or experiences”. It is this perfectionistic desire to be happy, optimistic all the time when we are in pain.


When we respond “to distress with false reassurance”, we can come across as “fake”, or insecure and inauthentic, insensitive to people’s emotional triggers, lacking empathy, disconnection, and shutting people down. After all, “[we] can’t bond with someone [who] are unwilling to sit in [other people’s] pain, discomfort, and anger with them”. It is also noteworthy to note that emotions are gendered. Boys are taught to not display and suppress their emotions, whereas girls are to display “less powerful” emotions such as agreeableness, which may pressure them to only display positive emotions and come across as inauthentic.


When we deal with pain, we can either respond with pain or love. By responding with love, we respond to pain by taking time aside to sit with these difficult emotions, acknowledging these emotions, so that we may process our emotion, and “share our distress without needing to fix them”. 


When denied the right to acknowledge our full human experience of perceived “flawed” or negative emotions, it can lead to a “sense of helplessness” and even “overwhelming powerlessness”, when pain is not acknowledged or becomes invisible

Our emotions are valid. It’s essential to not be just okay. Just because we feel distress does not mean that we are defective, weak, or inadequate. True happiness means authentically feeling in the moment, accepting that our lived experiences and wide range of emotions are valid and acceptable. “The truth is, humans are flawed. We get jealous, angry, resentful, and greedy”, and that’s ok as long as we are not “denying or suppressing our emotions”, acknowledging them, and not lashing out at other people’s pain. After all, we can only respond to distress with pain or love. Don’t try to force positivity if it is something that’s within my control. If it’s out of my control, that’s okay.


The author dora_and_design

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