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.