Poisonous Positivity Can Deliver You Down

Regardless of what every Instagram post seemingly preaches, not everything is necessarily going to be okay – realizing that it’s worth tapping twice or ❤️.

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It’s next to impossible to scroll through Instagram RN without discovering at least a caption or four about how “I’ll be fine!” and “it could be worse!” With all of the * gestures * going on in the world, it’s hard not to read these super positive statements and ask if you’re the only one getting what’s really, really happening. Indeed, it can be annoying-weird-annoying – and even affect your sanity.

Social media has always presented a filtered view of reality, and yes, we all could use a little positivity in our lives, especially these days. After all, we’ve all been living the #pandemic life since it felt like forever. Police brutality against people of color regularly hits the headlines, and presidential elections are coming up with potentially enormous consequences.

It’s a lot and it just makes sense to try and bring something positive into the mix. However, experts warn that from repeated exposure to this false-cheerful attitude, when life is clearly anything but, and if you rely too heavily on these tactics, you run the risk of a psychological phenomenon known as toxic positivity referred to as. Never heard of it? Here’s what you need to know.

What is toxic positivity?

Of course, being positive is a good thing. “Pushing yourself to be positive can actually be a healthy coping mechanism, especially if you can first identify how you really think about the situation and then consciously decide that you are positive about the situation in the right order around you to help coping, ”says Dr. Monifa Seawell, a certified psychiatrist based in Atlanta, Georgia. That applies even when you find yourself in a challenging situation where there is no immediate relief or change in sight – aka now, she says. Forming a positive outlook can “help you mentally endure these circumstances,” adds Dr. Seawell added.

But you begin to break into the realm of toxic positivity when you’re always positive, even in the face of some pretty intense things, according to Dr. Gail Saltz, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine and host of the Personology Podcast. “Nobody feels positive all the time … nobody,” she says. And when they do, “it means that a person is using denial, oppression, or some defense mechanism to ignore other feelings and always be” awake “.”

“Nobody feels positive all the time … nobody.”

– GAIL SALTZ, MD

Here’s the big difference between being positive and struggling with toxic positivity: Acknowledging reality. “It’s one thing to tell yourself, ‘This situation is not great. However, in order to cope with these circumstances and survive and not succumb to them, I will remain positive as it gives me mental strength, ”explains Dr. Seawell. “It’s another thing to use positivity as a tool to deny the reality of your circumstances and to convince yourself that the bad things that happen don’t happen at all.”

FWIW, toxic positivity isn’t just your inner feeling, says Dr. Saltz – You can also share them on social media and with others by always putting on a bubbly, happy face in public, even if you feel different.

Why are people engaged in toxic positivity?

Not only is toxic positivity seen in the COVID-19 pandemic, but more and more people are turning to it to try to face the difficulties of reality right now, says Dr. Seawell. At the same time, they don’t really acknowledge what is happening around them. “It’s just the suppression or turning away from reality that won’t change reality,” says Dr. Saltz.

It’s hard not to get into toxic positivity when you’re bombarded with news on Instagram about how to take this time to eat super healthy, exercise regularly, increase your productivity, and for your family / job / To be grateful for your health – especially when you feel like you can just get through the day without falling apart. That doesn’t mean that you automatically assume any of these things, which means that you are dealing with toxic positivity. Instead, the danger isn’t that you acknowledge that you have some emotions that aren’t positive either, explains Dr. Seawell.

What’s So Bad About Toxic Positivity?

“You want to make sure that your positivity doesn’t make you deny the reality of what was happening or feel uncomfortable with your other emotions,” says Dr. Seawell. “If you force yourself to be positive, you can deny the reality of your pain.”

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I wrote about toxic positivity and how to identify it earlier this month. This is just one of many examples, and it’s also one of the most common: Using “positivity” to invalidate emotions that are viewed as “negative” without even acknowledging or being present with them. Here’s how to change that: mindful positivity. With mindful certainty, emotions are recognized, you sit with them, validate them, and, if someone else has, empathize with them while showing hope for the future. Positivity, whether toxic or mindful, can be something people apply to others, or it can be part of one’s inner voice in the face of adversity. Positivity isn’t inherently bad. Their power lies in their ability to see reality. Some questions would be: Does my positivity invalidate someone’s reality or emotions? Does it minimize real struggle or pain? Does it make others question their reality (gas lighting)? Is it ignoring someone’s context? Does this mean that one can love and illuminate one’s way out of trauma and oppression? If the answer is yes, it may be time to take a closer look at our positivity and uses.

A contribution by Ana | MFT intern, RYT (@psychologyandlove) on Jun 26, 2020 at 7:31 am PDT

No matter how much you hold them down, those negative feelings won’t go away – and they won’t. “They just stay unconscious and can cause symptoms or behaviors that you don’t want,” says Dr. Saltz. Persistent toxic positivity can even cause your stress to show up in physical ways, such as headaches, other body aches, or self-destructive behaviors, she adds. And of course there is the fact that if you live your life in a constant state of sunshine and rainbows, you will not allow yourself to experience other emotions.

Seriously, research actually supports this stuff. A 12-year study of 720 people found that those who tended to suppress their emotions were at higher risk of earlier death, including death from cancer and heart disease, than their more emotional counterparts. And a number of studies published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that – no shock here – people who accepted and accepted their emotions rather than judging them had better mental health and life satisfaction and less likely to freak out when exposed to stress.

So how can you combat toxic positivity?

You don’t have to suddenly go negative Nancy (or Nikki or Natalie, or insert a name here) to combat toxic positivity – it’s just a good idea to be real with yourself. “If something happens, take a moment to ask yourself how you really feel about the situation,” says Dr. Seawell. “It is important to create space to recognize your feelings because they are valid.”

Once you realize these feelings, Dr. Seawell that you can choose what to do about it. For example, if you are frustrated that the officials involved in Breonna Taylor’s death were not brought to justice (* raised both hands *), you can use that frustration to protest or participate in social media campaigns for justice and change . But make yourself mistaken with thoughts like, “It will never happen again!” or “I’m sure it will be done!” is committed to toxic positivity – and is doing himself or others a disservice.

Dr. Saltz also recommends that you take the time to reflect on your own feelings. “Accept them instead of judging them as good or bad,” she says. “Be curious where they come from and why you feel them.”

Of course, you don’t want to push yourself into rumination territory. (Rumination, in case you’re unfamiliar with it, is the process of thinking about something that usually keeps bothering you. People often get stressed by ruminating thoughts.) To keep yourself in check, Dr. Saltz to take the time to acknowledge your feelings and then let them go. You can even mentally imagine flying out the window if it helps.

However, it’s not just about sitting with your inner thoughts. “Some people find that journaling helps them keep in touch with their emotions,” adds Dr. Seawell added. “In other cases, it is helpful to call a trusted friend or loved one who is able to sit with your discomfort.”

If you feel that social media is fueling your toxic positivity, she recommends taking some time: “If you find that the constant stream of positivity on social media is making you feel bad about yourself or your own life, it’s time to take a break. “

(Also Read: What Is Doomscrolling And How To Stop It)

It’s also a good time to check your coping mechanisms as the toxic positivity isn’t good, says Dr. Saltz. It may take some time to find out what works for you, but talk to friends about your real feelings, exercise regularly, or give yourself the time and space each day to wrap yourself in a warm blanket and really, really feeling everyone can be helpful. “Have some self-soothing and mood-enhancing methods when you are feeling particularly down, or even incorporate them into your daily routine to keep yourself from being overly anxious or depressed,” recommends Dr. Saltz.

However, if you find that you are still shunning your real emotions and find that you feel uncomfortable about experiencing feelings other than positivity, “it is worth exploring this with a therapist,” says Dr. Seawell.

(Also Read: Why You May Feel Socially Concerned After Quarantine)

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