Whenever you were feeling down, unmotivated and in a bad place, how many times have you been told, 'just stay positive', 'it's not as bad as you think', or the teeth-grinding 'there are worst things in life'?
Statements like these tend to do more harm than good, but because of the message behind them, they're supposed to be construed as helpful and 'positive' anecdotes. Though meant as a way of showing support for someone, these notions can often lead to increased negative thoughts. The other person may feel pressured to 'look on the bright side' and prevent them from taking the time they need to process their emotions.
Toxic Positivity In Your Life
So what is toxic positivity, and if its supposed to build positive energy, how can it be toxic?
To put it simply, it's the idea that no matter how bad a situation is, one should always focus on having a positive outlook, and leaving no room for negative thoughts to fester. It's the unrealistic perception that it's more important to focus on 'good vibes only'; think of those 'Keep Calm' posters that used to dominate every crevice of the 2010's.
The thing is: that's not how life works.
Toxic positivity may breed an environment that pushes for someone to be positive and doesn't allow them the room to properly 'feel' their emotions or overlook how they're really feeling because they should only look for things to be optimistic about. When they can't find it in themselves to do so, people might feel a sense of guilt, further pushing their negative emotions.
Toxic Positivity In The Workplace
Though toxic positivity can be prevalent in our own personal relationships and on social media, many find themselves the victim of toxic positivity in environments such as the workplace where it could affect their ability to focus on their work.
Toxic positivity in the workplace might not present itself in ways you'd expect. It can be as simple as being anxious about an upcoming pitch or feeling like you need to constantly be at the top of your game after your boss praised you for your discipline and now you feel this pressure to live up to these standards.
Or even when your superiors feel the need to push their own work methodology onto you. All these aspects can put a toll on your mental health (if it hasn't already).
So what can we do to recognize when it happening, and once that's done, how do we manage it and ensure it doesn't end up debilitating us?
One of the simplest ways is to:
Improve the general idea of empathy: Let others feel what they have to and not make them feel like they need to buck up. Life isn't all about 'good vibes' and that's okay. If we were in the same position, what would we want to hear? Wouldn't we want to be understood and seen for how we're feeling and have the freedom to do so?
Practice non-aggressive positivity: Though paved in good intentions, our words of encouragement may not give the right message. So instead of trying to find see the whole situation as an opportunity to see the good in life, acknowledge that someone is having a tough time and ask how you and the other person can help to remedy the situation.
Create a space for open communication: This is especially important in the workplace; when employees feel heard and have a safe space to actively communicate how we feel, it fosters trust within the company. Employers need to accept that their team have times where they feel overwhelmed and things aren't always working as well as we'd hope, and that it's important that both sides work to resolve the issues together.
Overall, one's mental health is subject to what each person is going through and it can't be solved by a simple mantra and pressure to let go of negative emotions. Negativity as a whole doesn't do you any justice but having to make it seem like positivity is the only thing we should focus doesn't either.
Communicating our emotions and placing importance in creating an environment where we don't always have to 'okay' should be the priority and that's okay.