07/19/2024

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Having a “good vibes only” lifestyle may have short-term benefits, but how sustainable is it in the long run?

While research shows that having an optimistic mindset is good for your overall health, some experts say that using it as a way to avoid or suppress negative feelings, either for yourself or for others, can become what’s called “toxic positivity,” and it can have negative long-term effects. Coupled with the increasing societal pressure on young people to appear “perfect” online, the message of “cheer up” can be a recipe for disaster.

“Toxic positivity affects not only your mental health, but also your physical health, your relationships and everything you do,” Vanessa Codorniu, a clinical hypnotherapist who specializes in online health, explained to Yahoo Life. “It also doesn’t allow us to learn from our experiences because you’re too shy to open them.”

Experts say this is especially harmful to people in today’s digital environment, where an ever-expanding content quagmire, especially on social media, encourages rejection or denial of real-world pressures.

What is toxic positivity?
Toxic positivity is the compulsive belief that no matter how difficult a situation someone is going through, they should remain positive instead of taking up the mental space they need to assess their feelings. While seeing the bright side of things isn’t a bad thing in itself, experts agree that when it’s pushed to extremes, it can become toxic.

“Toxic positive emotions don’t have the benefits of truly positive emotions, because the benefits of positive emotions are physical and mental. You have to really feel the positivity, not just deny the negativity,” Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Center for Media Psychology Research, explained to Yahoo Life.

“Toxic positivity is an artificial appearance,” she added. “It invalidates emotions and the lived experiences of others, and creates pressure to conform to an unattainable and unhealthy goal. It precludes empathy, which means you actually listen to someone to better understand and feel what the other person is feeling, so toxic positivity can make the recipient feel worse.”

Of course, books and ideas about positive thinking and performance are nothing new. For example, the popular Think Rich, published in the 1930s and which has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide to date, contains instructions for curbing negative thinking. In addition, recently published books such as The Secret and You’re a Badass are a modern twist on the idea of expressing happiness.

But, as Codorniu says, in the age of social media, these messages have evolved into an unhealthy obsession with “acting out” our positivity rather than dealing with situations in a pragmatic way. “The New Age movement tells us that in order to evolve, or to live a better life, or to become a better self-actualized person, like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, etc., we have to be happy. If you’re happy, you’ll attract abundance,” she explained. “So if you don’t have everything you see online, in the media or on TV, it’s your fault.”

Forms of toxic positivity and their effects
Toxic positivity can take many forms, but according to experts, the main way it manifests itself is in people who try to turn feelings of anger, fear, sadness, depression or anxiety into happiness, rather than letting that person express it naturally.

For example, when something difficult or painful happens, such as the death of someone you love or the loss of a job or relationship, people may offer platitudes such as “you’ll learn from this,” “stay positive,” ” Keep looking on the “bright side”” or “Everything happens for a reason.

Codorniu explains that this is especially evident on social media, where messages such as “you’ll get through it,” “keep going,” “you got it” and “You’ll show them!” Comments like “You’ll get through it,” “Keep going,” “You got it,” and “You’ll show them!

“These comments can send us the message that anything other than happiness is bad,” she notes, adding that they can manifest as harmful messages we tell ourselves – “I’m too busy being sad ” or “I” have too many things to slow down,” for example.

Toxic positivity can also block the opportunity to process grief and loss and, more importantly, prevent people from learning and growing from these experiences.

“You can’t deny the human condition,” Rutledge says. “Sometimes life sucks, right? Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s incredibly challenging. You lose people and terrible things happen. If you deny that, then you don’t deal with it, you don’t accept it, and it actually does more harm than good.”

These avoidance types of approaches are usually taught to us at a very young age. “When you were a kid, did you ever say ‘I’m hungry’ and then your mom said to you, ‘You’re not hungry, you just ate,'” Rutledge explains. “Or, if you say you don’t want to do something and someone says, ‘We’ll all keep quiet and we’ll all have a good time.”

Such experiences can prevent people from understanding their personal strengths and weaknesses, she said, and ultimately affect their confidence in the world.

“When someone tells you that you should be positive, which is an unattainable ideal, it invalidates your experience and makes you more helpless, which means that whatever hand you reach out to them won’t provide you with any social connection or social support,” Rutledge explained. “It’s so destructive to people’s sense of self.”

“When you don’t allow yourself to slow down and feel what you’re feeling, you start to feel guilt and shame about the negative emotions,” adds Cordoneu. “You want to avoid increasingly uncomfortable feelings, which means you want to avoid people and situations, take risks and have the tough conversations that might lead to something helpful – like having a deep conversation with your partner, asking for a raise or better accommodations at work, or even confiding in a friend. “

Codorniu believes these so-called “negative” emotions don’t have to be perceived as negative. “Because guess what? Emotions like anger can tell you that something is really wrong in your life,” she explains. “Anger can let you know that you’re being abused or taken advantage of at work.”

The same is true of emotions like fear, sadness, depression and anxiety, she notes, adding that these emotions often arise when our brains tell us that something is “wrong” with a particular situation. Pretending these triggers aren’t there can lead to future harm.

Adjusting to it
Recognizing toxic positivity in yourself and others is the first step in adjusting it, but there are other steps you can take to develop a healthier approach. “You have to be willing to set boundaries with your real-life friends and your online friends,” Rutledge explains. “You have the tools of the block.”

Positive thinking is equally important because it can help you understand your true feelings so you can learn how to manage your emotions instead of denying them. It can also help you decipher which friends express true empathy, Rutledge adds.

“When someone comes to you, you often feel like you should solve the problem,” she says, explaining the natural reaction people have when a friend presents them with a problem. “[But] it’s not your job to fix other people. It’s to validate their existence and make them feel good about being real.”

“We’re all insecure, we’re all worried, we’re all struggling with all kinds of things,” she added. “You want to know you can be who you are because it actually makes you more confident. It’s like, you get permission to be you. I don’t have to worry about how I feel and how I’m supposed to feel or how you expect me to feel or how you want me to feel.”

Making sure your needs are met is equally important, Codorniu says. “Over the years, I’ve learned to say, ‘Do you want an advice giver? A cheerleader? Or do you want a listener?'” She explains certain situations.

“It’s about figuring out what you need and being able to ask for it,” she says. “So if I call somebody, I’ll say, ‘You know what? I just need you to hear my voice right now, because I’m really angry,’ and they’ll just listen. And then one time I’ll say, ‘I’m a little upset about this, but I need to hear that it’s going to get better. I need to hear the good side of this situation.'”

“When we don’t have boundaries, we become interdependent,” she added about the importance of understanding our needs. “When we give our strengths and feelings to others, we let them define who we are.”

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