Having a positive outlook on life has always been something that others have praised. Getting through the rough times with a smile on your face is great, but when positive thinking goes too far (and it can), things can turn pretty sour.
That’s right, being happy 24/7 isn’t always a good thing. While we all need a little rose-coloured thinking to get us through life, embracing the negative emotions and riding the ups and downs of your feelings is all part of being human.
Besides, forcing yourself to stay positive during the more difficult times can certainly take its toll. Those who do this likely have an inherent fear of negative emotions and will just stress and become sad over literally feeling stressed and sad for whatever the reason. It’s a vicious cycle of repressing emotions which is bound to explode at some point.
So, what is toxic positivity?
Toxic positivity was a phenomenon and term coined by psychiatrist Gayani DeSilva who described it as, “an insincere positivity that leads to harm, needless suffering, or misunderstanding”.
What DeSilva is talking about is not only repressing negative emotions yourself but also encouraging others to always feel happy too.
Popular sayings like “look on bright side” and “it could be worse” and “cheer up” might be said with good intentions, but they can actually harm others and diminish their negative feelings.
Unfortunately, social media is riddled with toxic positivity with quotes like “positive vibes only” and other memes continually circulating.
So, how do you tell if you’re suffering from toxic positivity? Below are some of the telltale signs that it might be time to reevaluate your positive outlook and ensure all your emotions are permissible (and even welcomed too).
1. You hide how you really feel
We’re all guilty of covering up our emotions but when this becomes a constant thing, issues can arise.
Whether it’s in a relationship with your partner, your loved ones or even just yourself, hiding your true feelings is usually a protective instinct. For example, when someone you love does something to annoy you, you may choose to hide your annoyance to protect them and your relationship.
Learning to embrace all kinds of emotions, the good and the bad, can be tough for some but releasing them in healthy ways to people that you trust will help you move forward and find those happy moments again.
2. You dismiss all negative feelings
A study from the University of Texas found that when people avoid emotions, they actually get stronger over time, which takes a massive toll on both your body and your mind. This can manifest in the form of alcohol or drug addiction, excessive working, a poor relationship with food or other interpersonal challenges.
The best way is to find healthy coping mechanisms that allow you to work through those feelings and their causes. This could be anything from exercise to meditation to talking with someone you trust or visiting a medical professional.
3. You feel guilty about feeling sad or angry
It’s hard to not feel guilty about being sad, angry, depressed or any other type of negative emotion when you see someone in a worse-off position than you. It happens to everyone on occasion, but if you constantly feel significant guilt about experiencing these emotions, then the signs are pointing to toxic positivity.
We all have our challenges and we all feel an array of emotions. Whatever you feel and whenever you feel it is totally valid and is just another hurdle of life to work through. It’s important to not feel guilty when these negative emotions arise in order to fully work through them and overcome it.
4. You hide behind positive sayings and quotes
Do you find yourself hiding behind a bunch of positivity quotes like, “always look on the bright side” or “think happy thoughts”?
Not only does this reinforce toxic positivity to yourself but if you’re also sharing these quotes on social media or saying them to friends, you’re making their negative emotions feel redundant.
Instead of reciting these quotes every time a loved one is feeling down, try asking things like, “how can I help?” or “are you okay?” or show your support through phrases like, “I’m here for you” and “we’ll make sense of it eventually”.
While you may not be an expert on what they’re feeling, you can sympathise and listen to offer reinforcement.
5. You wouldn’t dare to be seen unhappy
Are you always showing your happy face when you’re in the company of others? Is your Instagram a highlights reel? Chances are you’re scared of people seeing you as anything other than a beaming beacon of happiness.
People might not want to be seen unhappy for a few reasons. This could be so they don’t burden others with their negative emotions, to self-protect from vulnerability, to protect their relationships, or to maintain the image of a perfect life.
The quicker you come to accept that no life is perfect, the faster you’ll release the burden of reaching an unachievable standard in your life.
Plus, people can relate better to imperfect lives and if we normalise this on social media platforms and in our daily interactions more and more, people will feel at liberty to simply live their lives as they wish.
6. You scold people who lack positivity
When your friends are feeling down it can negatively affect your mood too, but that’s never a reason to lash out at them for feeling the way that they do. Positivity for some, especially those battling mental health issues like depression or anxiety, can be hard to channel.
By scolding them for their lack of positive emotions, you’re dismissing their negative ones, which are simply a part of existence.
The best thing to do is listen where you can and suggest professional help when you don’t feel comfortable assisting or can’t provide what they need.
7. You tell your friends ‘it could be worse’
Yes, it probably could be worse but there’s no reason to point that out to your friends when they’re feeling down. This saying is ultimately invalidating their emotions and making them feel guilty for the way they feel because others have it tougher.
The fact is that everyone copes with things differently. If two people experienced a traumatic incident, there’s the possibility it could affect both of them, neither of them, or one of them and not the other. While you can empathise, you can never truly know what another is going through.
8. Negativity makes you angry and confused
The basis of negative emotions is that they don’t make us feel good. And when we don’t feel good it’s easy to point the blame at the negative emotions that have us feeling down.
But by doing so, you’re only escalating these feelings with more anger and confusion. It’s important to remember that while we can’t always make sense of why we’re feeling down, and sometimes it happens in what should be the best of times, finding ways to work through the emotions and turning to healthy ways to release them is the fastest way to start feeling your best again.
9. Stories of your life are always all ‘sunshine and rainbows’
It’s much easier to share the great, happy stories with friends and loved ones but when that’s all you ever shed light on, you might be suffering from toxic positivity.
Sharing stories affiliated with negatives emotions to those you trust is a helpful way to work through and get over those issues. Plus, it’s way more relatable and encourages your friends and others around you to also be vulnerable and open up about their more difficult moments.
10. You ‘just get on with it’
People suffering from toxic positivity usually have a hard time taking a moment to stop and notice the way that they’re feeling and instead “just get on with it”. By doing so, there’s a risk of developing unhealthy habits (that are deep down a coping mechanism) like addictions to work, alcohol or other detrimental behaviours.
Resilience is a highly valuable skill but it requires people to fully recover from their issues or emotions and not simply bottle them up for another time. Not only is this bound to explode but you’re also creating a habit of suppressing emotions every time they aren’t favourable ones.
Most people would agree that being more positive is preferable to being negative, but there is no such thing as being 100 per cent positive. In fact, too much positivity can potentially hurt us in the form of toxic positivity.
So, next time you feel negative emotions start to kick in, monitor the way you react and remember working through something is always better than pushing it aside.
This article was written by Laine Fullerton and originally published on A Girl In Progress.