Toxic Positivity

That’s an oxymoron, isn’t it?  I am fascinated by this new post pandemic phrase – can positivity be toxic?  I think the answer is yes but with some caveats.  When I first started blogging on WordPress, most of the blogs were literary (poetry/writing), travel based, humorous or healthy living (mental and physical).  Over the past year there have been a huge increase in blogs with a ‘Positivity’ focus.  I follow several blogs that fall into that category and I write posts that are positive, too.

No matter how many ways you say it, however, there was really few silver linings about this last year.  It was, what it was – a Pandemic.  There is truly no way to fully prepare for it and all the consequences that include unemployment, isolation, illness and death.  Like many of my readers, it became too much at times and I stopped watching the news or anything pandemic related.  I found some succor in my Fairy Blight stories.  We gravitated to lighter TV programs and movies and that is natural.

Positivity becomes toxic when it is insistent, leaving you no room for feeling bad or empty.  We should feel very sad and grief stricken about the great loss of life.  We should be on edge about the political and other divisions between us during this stressful time and be prepared to take action (in a non-violent legal way).  There is nothing positive about all the mass gun shootings in the USA this year alone – we need a cultural change along with a legal one.

In day-to-day life, I have noticed that some friends only want to talk about upbeat topics.  That can leave the friend, who wants to share their angst, feeling alone.  There is room for both.  You can chat about how crappy you feel and then start laughing about a shared memory or plans for the future.  Real friends are there for you in darkness and light.  Be assured that there is light ahead – every morning there is a new dawn with endless possibilities.  Was that the cheesiest phrase I have ever written?  At least I can laugh at myself and my toxic positivity…

When I was growing up, my mum had a major depressive breakdown with a hospital stay and electroshock therapy.  I inherited the genetic disorder but also struggled with a mother who couldn’t see anything positive in life.  As a result, I did everything I could to make her happy, until I got angry.  After I married, I would call my mum every night at 6 pm.  In an instant I could tell if her mood was low.  If it was, I panicked, wondering if she was going to drink that night, then I went on to MAKE her feel positive.  It’s possible that I had a remarkable skill with my poor mother or she just pretended to be okay so I would shut up!  Sometimes she felt so bad that she wouldn’t answer the phone.  Then I phoned her next-door neighbor…  I think that is the essence of toxic positivity and my intentions were so good.

In retrospect, I should have given her some space, and allowed her to feel bad but I was full of fear.  When I worked in mental health, I took a couple of courses in counselling skills and was mortified that this was not my forte.  The excellent trainer pointed out that I was trying to make the client feel better rather than truly listen to them.  That taught me so many lessons but I also knew that training to be a fully qualified counsellor was not for me.  To be honest, I am much better in a triage or stressful situation giving sensible advice.  That’s why I worked so long at an airport.  My desire to overwhelm passengers with positivity and happiness was appropriate in that small time period of contact – and mostly appreciated by stressed travelers.

Many years ago, I worked with the colleague from hell – she was the epitome of a gas-lighter.  Eventually I left the job with a vague excuse although my co-workers thought the gas lighter was the reason.  She was full of fake toxic positivity and plastered the walls of our office with those awful 90’s motivational posters. I wanted to deface them all with the opposite word as well as hold her down and write SOCIOPATH on her forehead with one of her black markers.

ACHIEVEMENT – FAILURE

FOCUS -APATHY

EXCELLENCE – MEDIOCRITY

Being positive is a wonderful quality but you can’t force it on yourself or other people.  Balance and moderation are in short supply currently but hopefully life will improve.  The mask mandate is lifted here because there are so many fully vaccinated people and what a joy it is to smile at random strangers.

Here is a definition from VeryWellMind.com

Toxic positivity is the belief that no matter how dire or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset. It’s a “good vibes only” approach to life.

This is the second in a series of essays; the first was Cancel Culture or Consequences and the third will be Gaslighting.

31 thoughts on “Toxic Positivity

  1. I am so happy to read this post. I was recently told, by my boss with another manager present as a witness, that I needed to do just what you describe, the entire time I’m at work. Be only positive! The ‘customer service voice’ I use when answering the phone, was expected at all times. Very hard to live up to while performing 2 jobs while my office mate is in a facility battling for her life with cancer. It is exhausting and incredibly unrealistic to always be positive. Sometimes a person needs to be frustrated, sad, angry, or just plain unhappy for a bit. It’s all about balance. Too much negativity is harmful, but so is too much positivity. Great post!

    Liked by 5 people

    • I am so sorry for your work situation and thank you for your comment, Kate. It’s always a fine balance and everything is a little harder for us this year. My thoughts are with you and your office mate. K x

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Such a wonderful post, Kerry 🙂 We don’t have to be positive all the time, and we don’t have to waste our energy if we don’t feel like we have enough of it. There are days when all I can do is to make myself a cup of my favourite tea and wait for those gloomy emotions to wash over me. I think it’s perfectly okay to feel angry, annoyed, frustrated or scared because having feelings doesn’t make you a ‘negative person.’ It makes you human. Just take a deep breath, we are not always able to conquer the world! Aiva 🙂 xxx

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you so much, Aiva. This has been an exhausting time for all of us, even if we are doing nothing! I am struggling to feel good about post pandemic life with no sense of purpose. Experience tells me that life will change and get better whether we have positive thoughts or not. 😊 K x

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Some very good observations in this post, Kerry! I try hard to be a good listener. I have one friend who always needs to talk things out and I wait till later to share my life happenings and thoughts. Sometimes it’s hard, but I know it’s appreciated. For many years, I volunteered with a victims assistance group, mostly with domestic violence cases, and we learned, after making sure they were safe and didn’t need medical care, to ask “Would you like to talk about it/tell me what happened?” and it unleased a flood of emotion and story. This really wasn’t what your post was about… (!) but I try to resist just saying things will be ok because it doesn’t always work. I do use positivity on myself, and that usually works!

    Liked by 4 people

    • I think you touched on something important about positivity, Ruth. It is so much more valuable to listen without judgment. When I was working in a similar field, I would then try to find ways to make the situation better (psychiatrist, social worker, housing) after listening to what was often a terrible tale. Often your experience and instinct tells you that it is not going to be okay. My husband points out to me that I am too hard on myself when I do have a chronic illness. Any good day is a positive!

      Liked by 3 people

  4. I agree it’s a tough line to walk – finding the silver lining in every cloud, but also facing the reality of grief and allowing ourselves and others to truly feel. A very thoughtful post on this complicated subject!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you very much, MB. It took me a while to get the right tone. There is a difference between the way Europeans and Americans view positivity. One of the reasons why I love living in the US, is the boundless sense of optimism. K x

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Kerry,
    I relate when you talk about your mother. I can detect right away if she is in a down mood, just by how she answers the phone. Then I go into “making her smile” mode. It is a burden sometimes.
    I am the one you described, always positive, to the point of annoyance. I have learned to tone down when speaking to others. I now try to just listen when I see that my positivity would not add anything good to the conversation, or help the person’s situation.
    Blessings to you! ♥♥

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Good post Kerry, and clearly a subject you have considered deeply. There’s certainly a difference between over-the-top bonhomie and simply being smiley and cheerful and shrugging off things one can’t control. That is good positivity.

    Liked by 1 person

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