Mental Health Day 2021: How to Recognise Toxic Positivity
- Feeling invalidated because others are worse offFeeling invalidated because others are worse off
- Feeling guilty for being downFeeling guilty for being down
- Telling people to “cheer up” without understanding why someone is downTelling people to “cheer up” without understanding why someone is down
- Not being given closureNot being given closure
- Pretending to be okay when you’re notPretending to be okay when you’re not
Contrary to what logic may dictate: it isn't healthy to be happy all the time. Here’s how to identify if your positivity is toxic or not
To celebrate World Mental Health Day on October 10, we're spotlighting articles and resources that can help you or someone you know improve their mental health.
You’ve probably heard of it before: toxic positivity. It’s often a well-meaning but misconstrued belief that people should put a “positive spin˚ on all experiences”, even those that are found to be tragic.
It seems like an oxymoron; after all, how is being positive toxic? But mental health is more than just being happy every day, it’s accepting and understanding the range of emotions that come with being human.
Here’s how you can tell if you or someone around you is enforcing positivity that’s more detrimental than helpful.
Feeling invalidated because others are worse off
Remember: just because other people have it worse doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to be sad, angry or frustrated over something deemed “less than”.
While there’s merit in being grateful, it’s also unfair to yourself (or to your friend) to invalidate experiences simply because others have it worse. After all, it’s impossible to compare what any two people are feeling because only they know their true experience. What may be difficult for someone, may be easier for another. Also, something a little odd about being grateful that other people are having a more difficult time than you are.
When faced with a tough situation, never compare yourself to people who have it worse or better than you do. The best way to respond is to focus on yourself and how you can feel better.
Feeling guilty for being down
It’s understandable to feel guilty over actions we regret, but feelings aren't things that we should be ashamed about. After all, they’re a reflex brought on by circumstances, situations, or accidents; they are rarely, if ever, a choice.
If you feel guilty for being sad, angry, or frustrated, it may be because someone has already invalidated your experience. Don’t allow anyone (not even yourself) to shame or guilt your mind into feeling guilty for a reflex.
Telling people to “cheer up” without understanding why someone is down
Perhaps the best way to truly help someone is to listen to them. Though there may not be anything you can do to fix the situation, offering a patient ear will often lift the spirits of those with trouble.
Avoid telling someone to “cheer up” or “fight the negativity”. This kind of advice is often easier said than done, easily misunderstood, and offer vague comfort to someone who may just need to feel supported.
Not being given closure
Because toxic positivity often invalidates experiences, people often lack closure to their problems.
While people may interpret closure differently, it often just means that one is at peace, or has accepted the events that have caused them harm. In other words, one can “close the book” on the pain of a past situation.
People often turn to therapy to find closure for their problems, and it's often the antithesis of toxic positivity. If toxic positivity asks you to be happy despite the circumstances, therapy asks the difficult questions that need to be addressed in order to heal. While this may make people feel uncomfortable or scared, it's a necessary step towards becoming happier and healthier.
Pretending to be okay when you’re not
Toxic positivity often forces people to move on from a situation that they haven’t fully processed. As such, people who are affected by it could end up pretending to be fine, even when they aren’t.
As they say, however, it’s okay to not be okay. If you’re facing a difficult situation, be patient with yourself. Similarly, if someone you know is having problems, be patient with them. A bit of understanding or leeway can go a long way for those who are struggling.