Articles - 28th May 2019

Toxic Positivity

Words by Mani Steele

“Be Positive”.

What does that phrase do for you?

Not much?

Same here.

Never before has there been more conversation on ‘mindset’. On the benefits of having a positive outlook on life. I like to think I manage to keep that little spark of positivity alight when times get tough; to talk myself out of spiralling down that rabbit hole of negative internal dialogue.

However, has the saturation of positive insta quotes or misleading ‘positive perfection’ plastered all over social media turned this movement on its head? It seems we could all be feeling the pressures of ‘toxic positivity’. In other words, sugar coating and striving for our lives to be about continuous joy and happiness.

Positivity, in and of itself, is and will always remain a good thing. But, us humans seem to have a way of taking an idea and running with it, all jumping on that bandwagon of trend culture and marketing while missing out on the finer details: the process, the complexities.

As great as it would be, we often can’t spirit a positive mind when our emotions are telling us otherwise and in a world saturated with “live, laugh, love” and “happiness is an inside job”, I think we’re all getting caught up with an unattainable reality.  

When you’re feeling down, there’s nothing worse than the old “Keep your chin up”, “Smile, it’s not that bad”, “Oh don’t cry, stay positive”. That just isn’t going to cut it – if anything, I then have the added pressure to refrain from stuffing it up their bloody backside.

What you really need is someone around you to turn around and say, “just let yourself feel what you’re feeling, be brave enough to honour your emotions, let it out however you need to, but just make sure you do – it’ll sort you out”. Even if it’s just that you’ve had a crap day, it’s okay to show how you feel about it – then let it go and move on. Forcing yourself to be happy just fills your body with anxiety and pent up emotion.

From a deeper perspective, Brene Brown, a psychotherapist and shame researcher, truly believes that in order to be courageous and live our lives fully, we must accept the most vulnerable parts of ourselves, we must accept that vulnerability is courage.

So, if to be truly courageous, we must accept the inevitability of feeling vulnerable, then we must accept the painful reality that life can’t always be positive. It’s unrealistic and counterproductive. If we’re forcing ourselves to always ‘feel’ positive, when we’re totally alone with our own thoughts, that exhausting facade we’ve been upholding is bound to come tumbling down – and fast.

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think life is about ‘finding happiness’; for me, it’s about manifesting happiness and enjoying it while it’s there, yet still feeling all the other complex and intense emotions that we’ve been wired to feel, as and when they choose to arise. It’s what gives our lives true meaning – what makes us interesting and relatable. We learn from our downfalls and our heartbreak in order to convert it into wisdom.

Moreover, I think this desire to portray a life of perfection and positivity is hindering our ability to connect to one another. No one wants to hear how perfect your life is constantly, and isn’t that just what Instagram has sort of become? Of course, we should be cheering each other on from the sidelines when life is dandy, but that isn’t what connects us.

How many people have you become friends with because you can talk openly about how you feel, or even because of mutual pain or emotional experience? We bond through the ugly moments of our lives, yet we’re all focused on showing all the best bits. No wonder there’s a rise of loneliness and disconnection, when we’re constantly making out everything is fine.

All in all, somewhere in the sea of positivity, there’s a stepping stone we skim over as a result of rushing the process. Being constantly positive isn’t the issue – I don’t think – but not addressing your problems are and that’s highlighted even more when you’re bombarded by ‘positivity pressure’.

What’s needed it more honest conversations, more raw feelings, more openness and more vulnerability. Once we’ve really delved into all of that untapped information, can we then lay down the foundations to become more positive? I think so. In fact, I feel quite positive.

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