I’ve been an optimist my entire life, but in all honesty this hasn’t always served me positively.
Whilst there were so many situations where a positive mindset was a powerful tool – especially when it came to an optimistic view of the future and expecting or trying to find the good that could come down the line, which pulled me forward from negative ways of thinking. I’ve learned over these past few years that there is a definite line between being optimistic and toxically positive. And at times, I have been guilty of damn well overdosing on the ‘everything is awesome!’ outlook. Which wasn’t only detrimental to myself, but to everyone else around me.
‘Positivity only’ vibes
I think probably shortly after the emotional trauma of a divorce, which lead to needing to change my location, then career, navigating my early 30s as a divorcee, and also just really coming to terms with the end of an emotionally abusive decade long relationship. Coming out of and into all of that, lead me to jump onto some serious positivity only vibes.
The whole ‘positive vibes only’ mindset sounds really good. Like totally positive! However positive vibes only for me morphed from something good, to the denial of any and all negative experiences or emotions. Instead of normalizing that sometimes, things just aren’t okay, or I felt bad, upset, and a bit shitty, I tried to stay positive and in doing so dismissed anything even slightly negative as invalid, entirely glossing over them.
The downside of toxic positivity
It was probably partly a defence mechanism. There was so much I felt was going wrong in my life, that the only way to counter it was to be SUPER okay with it all. Like seriously, everything happens for a reason, just get on with it, it’s meant to be this way, it could be worse, don’t think about it – just stay positive!
The trouble is by forcing myself to stay positive, I was actually keeping my struggles completely silenced. It was a false reassurance, minimizing experiences and ignoring painful emotions, keeping myself in a state of denial and repression. And it lead to not processing things that happened in a healthy way in order to maintain a sense of optimism above any and all of those really natural feelings and emotions. It was counterproductive to my mental health and to my personal growth.
“Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience. Any attempt to escape the negative, to avoid it or quash it or silence it, only backfires. The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of struggle is a struggle. The denial of failure is a failure. Hiding what is shameful is itself a form of shame.”— Mark Manson
I ended up in this situation of being positive 24/7, in any circumstance
There was always a spin to be spun on any situation. I forgot it was okay to be upset or to feel bad sometimes. That life occasionally just utterly sucks and no positive vibes are going to make it less so. What’s even worse, is that I realized I projected this constant need to be optimistic onto those around me
My need for a positive attitude morphed into always responding with, “it could be worse,” or, “it was meant to be,” and, “stay positive.” Instead of empathizing and truly acknowledging someone’s feelings, I was dealing with things in the same way I dealt with myself; Ignore bad emotions, over-ride with positivity and pure faith in optimism alone. These statements were absolutes in the way I handled situations with myself and others, and positivity had become my answer to all life’s problems.
But all I did was inadvertently gloss over their feelings in favour of spreading some super, upliftingly awesome positivity!
Of course I was attempting to make things better. It came from a good place. But that doesn’t mean that place wasn’t actually toxic and harmful. Because without realizing it, I wasn’t only dismissing my own valid emotions and feelings, I was also entirely dismissing someone expressing how they felt to me.
“I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter.”— Walt Disney
Life can be a bit crap
I have always tried to retain a positive attitude and way of thinking. For the most part my optimistic mindset has been healthy. It’s pulled me away from dark mindsets. Boosted me in times of struggle. And given me fairer and greater perspective by being able to look at the bigger picture. It has increased my self-confidence and self-esteem. My optimism in many ways has served me well. But toxic positivity didn’t.
Toxic positivity made me think that it wasn’t okay to address completely normal emotions. I thought glossing over everything was way healthier than actually processing and addressing ALL my feelings. That life could never just be, a little bit crap sometimes. And being ‘positive vibes’ only, just lead to becoming overwhelmed with all of those piles of unprocessed internalized emotions feelings all at once.
Optimism and Toxic Positivity: the two co-exist in close proximity
I’ve learned that being an optimist can be a really positive influence on how I interpret life and my experiences. But that it also requires a careful balance between interpreting life with optimism and also realism. It took a lot of time to practice mindfulness with all of my emotions, and ensure I didn’t sway back into over-riding positivity when processing negative experiences.
I had to get really comfortable with acknowledging hardship, struggles, sadness, fear, anxiety – accepting any negative emotions as not a failure or weakness. And to also ensure that I really listened to what someone was saying to me, rather than feeling a need to figure out a positive solution, which actually, wasn’t always the answer they were looking for or what they needed. I can’t say I’ve completely figured out the whole optimism vs. toxic positivity balance just yet, but I’m now aware that the two co-exist in close proximity to one another.
I don’t need to be positive 24/7. It’s okay and completely normal to not feel okay
I know now that whilst positive vibes only might sound wonderfully nice and charming, barring all emotions other than those good time feelings isn’t a solution to the messy, flawed, emotional, painful experiences of day in day out life. I don’t need to be positive 24/7. It’s okay and completely normal to not feel okay, and to say as such. Unrelenting optimism actually had a detrimental affect on my mental health, which has a weird irony to it, considering the reason I tried to maintain unwaveringly upbeat was to keep myself happy, but in fact, it just had entirely the opposite effect.
Allowing other people to express their own feelings, and not invalidating them by over-riding or dismissing what they said in favour of a ‘positive’ outlook, is way healthier than not acknowledging theirs or my feelings. Because you can’t be positive vibes only, all the time. You just can’t. And trying to be, for me anyway, didn’t lead anywhere good.
“One cannot accomplish anything without (a little) fanaticism.”— Eva Peron, Actress, Politician, Activist
Have you experienced the downfalls of toxic positivity? What are your thoughts on positive vibes only? I’d love to know!
Tips on becoming more realistically optimistic, as recommended by positivepsychology.com