Encouragement Vs. Toxic Positivity

Updated: Feb 9

Toxic Positivity is a subject I've been wanting to discuss in this blog for a while. It is the divisive elephant in the room when it comes to mental health. It contributes to the stigma around conditions such as depression and anxiety, yet at the core of it, there are some foundations for solid discussion.

What is toxic positivity? It is the perceived idea that despite the emotional challenges one is experiencing, they should have a positive mindset as to their perception or a desired outcome of the situation. Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy with the line - other people have it worse than me, so I shouldn't feel this way.

There is no direct line in the sand as to when encouragement becomes toxic positivity. As we try to make others feel better as they process their emotions, we need to take pause and think...

  • Are their physiological and emotional responses aligned?

  • What historical factors are involved?

  • What is my intent in trying to support them?

  • Am I being empathetic to them and their situation?

  • Why am I responding this way to their situation?

As adults our emotional responses to situations come from years of experience, coping strategies and conditioning. No two people have lived the same lives, so their responses will always vary, no matter how many parallels can be drawn. So by taking into account the above questions during the 'pause', we can restructure our approach to support and become more empathetic.

This isn't to say you can't help them in a solution driven manner, however it is best not to minimalise the situation or their emotions in doing so. While the saying 'You've survived 100% of your worst days so far' is true and encouraging, it may not be what they need to hear in the moment. I've said this in previous articles and it is worth repeating, the best way you can initiate your empathetic support is by asking - 'What do you need from me to help you at the moment?'

Some great follow ups to this may be - 'Do you just need to vent?' or 'Can I help you find a solution?' These questions will help you gain clarity around why and how they are feeling or experiencing their situation in this way.

The bottom line is that not every day is meant to be great for us. Part of life is living and experiencing the whole emotional spectrum. Being stuck at any point of that spectrum can impede our emotional growth and create issues with applying coping strategies when situations aren't rosy. This, of course can have a have a carry over effect with relationships and other avenues of our lives. It is important not to be scared about experiencing all that life has to offer, whether it be phenomenal, good, bad or ugly.

As mentioned above, we can be our own worst enemy by downplaying our own emotions and experiences. In this case, it is critical to ask yourself a few tough questions before downplaying your experience to 'stay positive' -

  • Is my response appropriate to the situation?

  • How is it effecting me/ where am I experiencing it?

  • Do I need help or support to work through this?

  • What are the likely outcomes of this scenario - good or bad?

When asking these questions of ourselves, we can grasp a more objective understanding of what we are experiencing and work through to a desired outcome.

Toxic positivity isn't just prevalent in our personal lives, it is often seen in workplaces, schools and social settings. In such environments, it can be easy to be swept up by buzzwords and a pack mentality, however by working to be more aware of your own (or others) reactions to such things - stress and anxiety are common red flags - you can work to dissipate the toxicity of extreme positivity to a more balanced level of encouragement.

Well wishes

Claire @ The Health & Wellbeing Haven

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