Toxic positivity guilts us into believing that feeling dark, at times, is damaging and counterproductive. Being negative is Real. Embrace it… Replace Toxic Positivity with Realistic Optimism.
pollyanna syndrome, oversimplified solutions, lemonade propaganda, forced optimism and motivational pressure can exacerbate trauma.
In times of low, how many times has it happened that someone has told you, ‘Don’t worry, everything is just going to be fine’ or ‘Take it on your stride, be optimistic.’?
Well, each one of us must have had come across such statements some point in our lives when we are faced with life’s unexpected, merciless turns. Of course, these are supposedly well-wishers and more often than not, such words are spoken when individuals do not know how to pacify a person in distress or when they just say it for the sake of it.
While positivity is required to move ahead in life with a sense of confidence, there lies a subtle difference between toxic positivity and realistic optimism.
So what is toxic positivity?
In simple terms, toxic positivity refers to the mantra that no matter how bad and miserable your life may be, or whatever painful circumstances may arise, you need to keep up an optimistic and smiling approach always.
Toxic positivity advocates only the brighter side of life, focusing on the rosy pictures and cheerful feelings, instead of actually addressing the real situations and difficult, unpleasant emotions that are so much an integral part of life. Such unrealistic positivity is actually more harmful than being negative on the face of it. How? Take a look at these situations.
Suppose you were compelled to quit your job because of certain circumstances in your life that demanded more attention than your work and although you feel upset at having to take such a decision, people might just come and say, ‘Cheer up, be positive, everything happens for a reason’.
When you are feeling lost and despondent about some loss in life or frustrated with life’s unappeasable happenings, it is not uncommon to hear, “Well, failure is not an option’ or ‘Situations could be worse, don’t dwell on the negative.’
While such statements might just have been uttered to put up a happy façade, they tend to bury your emotions of pain, thus vanquishing your negative feelings when you are reeling under unrelenting pangs of suffering. Thus, they ignore the intense emotions of the person or the real situation and facts that the person is going through and put up the attitude that their suffering isn’t worthwhile and they are not putting enough efforts to be happy.
The ‘good vibes only’ approach may impact the mind more than one can think of.
1/3. Makes one feel guilty…
When you are told ‘Think happy thoughts’, ‘happiness is a choice of life’, or ‘if you would have done followed my advice, you wouldn’t have to land here’ are only statements that make you feel guilty of doing something very wrong for which you are getting what you deserve.
2/3. Makes one feel shameful…
Instead of validating the emotions that one is going through, toxic positivity makes one feel that the emotions they are going through are unrealistic and unacceptable and they are not strong enough to face the challenges.
3/3. Bypasses genuine feelings…
Toxic positivity avoids the negative, genuine emotions in a way to get rid of any uncomfortable situations, putting up a demeanour of fake gaiety, instead of coming to the shoes of the sufferer and trying to empathise with his or her and helping her to cope with the situation better.
So is Realistic Optimism the better way out?
Before answering this, we need to understand what realistic optimism is. Contrary to toxic positivity, realistic optimism believes in positivity without neglecting emotions and believing in one’s abilities, despite murky roads that pose as challenges.
Instead of putting up a veneer of ‘all is good’, it proffers support and a level of comfort, knowing that emotions are validated and yet optimism is possible in moderation.
How to adopt an attitude of Realistic Optimism?
If you are the one who is at the receiving end of toxic positivity or if you are the one who has been unknowingly practising it on others, you need to know how to embrace realistic optimism and move ahead in life.
Remember, you cannot be held responsible for all the things happening to you or you may not have solutions for all the problems either. So, accept the downs as a part of normal life and try to adopt positivity that would be supportive as well as healthy. Here are some ways to do so…
1/4. Pamper yourself…
When things seem to be in doldrums or in a state of turbulence, try doing things that make you happy. Take care of yourself, nurture your hobby, spend time with your near and dear ones or simply relax and sleep. Some moments of yoga and meditation can also help in creating an ambience of mindfulness and self -introspection.
2/4. Pen down your thoughts, seek help…
It is perfectly fine to undergo cognitive errors when you are too stressed and might react to things immediately or take everything too personally, though the situation may not be quite so.
If you feel your friends and family members are unable to understand you at that moment, take to your pen and write down your feelings or get in touch with support groups or individuals who are going through the same situations. You may even pour your heart out in front of your doctor just to lighten your mind.
3/4. Do not ignore your emotions, manage them well…
While negative emotions can be stressors, they can also be essential factors to learn important lessons in life. Attend to your negative emotions, focus on them, accept them and do not expect yourself to be normal overnight.
The same holds true if someone close is going through such emotional turmoil- give him or her the time to get over it by addressing it, rather than giving unrealistic statements.
4/4. Differentiate between the controllable and the uncontrollable factors…
There are certain things that are in our control and some aspects of life which are beyond our controllable horizon.
There’s no way you can control an incurable disease, not all relationships are meant to last forever, nor is there a solution to every problem. Of course, such acceptance cannot come overnight and there may be times when you may jump into conclusions. In order to avoid such situations, try pondering on whether there are better alternatives to thinking negative. Focus on the small things of life that endow you with happiness every moment which makes it easier to get over the bad that is happening to you.
Whether you are at the receiving end or you are the one who is unconsciously becoming a transmitter of positivity that is toxic, you should consciously try to accept both the positives and the negatives and be an empathetic listener, while understanding yourself. Only when you consciously adopt realistic optimism, and let go of the ‘all positive’ approach, can you know yourself better, be grateful for what you have got and turn problems into opportunities and curve a path of positivity. To know more about the Self and Moods… Read the article Story of 9 emotions of Navarasas