“Good vibes only”, “You’ll get over it”, “Just keep smiling”, “ It could’ve been so much worse, consider yourself lucky!” – simply put, these are toxic platitudes which are otherwise known as toxic positivity.
Here’s an analogy I read this past year that changed my entire perception on advocating for mental health: “Someone who drowns in 7 feet of water is just as dead as someone who drowns in 20 feet of water”. There’s no scale to measure pain or hurt, and everyone is deserving of a non-judgmental support system and recovery. I promise you there’s absolutely no gain in comparing traumas and belittling one person because their situation isn’t as “bad” as another individual’s. We all process negative experiences and emotions differently, the least you can do as a listener is choose better language when providing support.
Here’s a scenario to better explain why toxic positivity is problematic. “Just push through, straighten your spine! There’s no time for you to sit around and whine”. In South Asian culture, this dialogue is pretty much the soundtrack of life. There’s this constant pressure and very unsettling expectation of always performing the best, keeping hush about personal struggles, all of which is far from reality especially for the youth. It’s a community that doesn’t quite get the concept of allowing one to process the surge of emotions. Instead, the focus is placed on scrutinising the individual’s entire life. Eventually, labelling comes into play and negative connotations such as “weak”, “nuisance”, “burden” consume the people that are affected whole. This then translates to youth sticking to themselves, distancing and disconnecting from family, and spiralling into extremely unhealthy coping mechanisms, and an overall destructive mental health.
True positivity is communication that doesn’t dismiss difficult feelings, it’s one that is accepting of difficult times and conversations. It’s one that addresses the problem and doesn’t make the entire identity of a person the issue. These are some things worth noting when one is sought out to be a shoulder to lean on. Just a general rule of thumb, it’s always better to hear “that must’ve been tough, I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say” than “at least you’re still here”.