You might have grown up being told to “look on the bright side” or that “it could be worse.” However, people are starting to recognize the harm that invalidating others’ negative emotions might cause for the sake of maintaining a positive outlook — something now called “toxic positivity..”
Toxic positivity is such a big part of our culture that it can leave us lost and confused when we try to ditch it. We might find ourselves no longer knowing what to say to a friend or colleague who’s down or worrying in general that we’re being too negative by being honest.
Instead of faking a smile and turning back to your Pinterest board of motivational quotes, here’s how to handle your response to others so that you can ditch toxic positivity for good.
The Problem with “Good Vibes Only”
For those of us who consider ourselves optimists, the subject of toxic positivity might come as a bit of a surprise. We might find ourselves wondering, what’s so wrong with wanting to look on the bright side of life?
Here is one of the reasons why. Forced happiness can actually make negative emotions worse, and it can prevent people with real problems from working through those problems.
There’s nothing wrong with finding the good in a negative situation. “Looking on the bright side” can be a form of acceptance, in which we try to make the most of our situation instead of denying or fighting against it.
But sometimes, the “good vibes only” approach isn’t appropriate. Instinctively, most of us know this — we would never tell a friend whose parent just died, “don’t worry, be happy!” Yet, there are other situations where we might not realize that our positive attitude is doing more harm than good.
When we approach life through a lens of positivity and positivity alone, we can inadvertently wind up invalidating others’ emotions. Even if it’s not what you meant, telling someone to “shake it off” or “ignore the haters” can sound like you don’t care about what they’re feeling.
Sadness, anger, and other so-called “negative” emotions are an important part of the human experience. When you ditch toxic positivity, you’re acknowledging that there’s a time and place for every emotion instead of judging these uncomfortable emotions as “bad” or “wrong.”
How to Validate Others’ Emotions
When we ditch toxic positivity, we might find ourselves lost when dealing with difficult emotions. After all, many of us use toxic positivity as a mask to prevent ourselves from dwelling on discomfort or from appearing weak and vulnerable to others.
If social media quotes are your thing, then the alternative to the “good vibes only” approach might be described as the “it’s okay not to be okay” approach. Wherever you’re at right now, however you’re feeling, is perfectly valid.
Next time you’re feeling down, resist the urge to “look on the bright side” and see how it feels to tell yourself, “actually, this DOES suck!” Once you master the validation of your own emotions, you can then extend actual sympathy to others. Phrases like “I’m here for you, and I’m sorry you’re going through this” or “I totally understand why you feel that way” can go a long way toward helping others feel seen and heard.