A common phrase we use when hanging out with friends is “good vibes only”. We sometimes say this to keep the atmosphere upbeat, but it can be harmful – manifesting into toxic positivity. Generally we do not associate positivity with something negative… in fact, is that not what having good mental health is all about? To be happy? These misunderstandings are very commonplace.
Overwhelmingly negative thoughts can impede our ability to lead a fulfilling life, yet the newly developed positive culture online could be more damaging to us than we know – when it becomes toxic.
Positive affirmation is a new popular coping mechanism, especially on Instagram with positive affirmation accounts. At first glance, it seems rather harmless and a behaviour which is favoured in society, yet having an overly positive mindset may be used to hide the human experience. We hear phrases which reinforce this all the time; such as “Be grateful for what you have”, “Be positive!” and “You’ll get over it”. Though individuals who say such things are usually well-intentioned, trying to have a positive outlook and preventing ourselves from reflecting on our true feelings can be more damaging than helpful.
Part of the human experience is that we are able to experience a wide range of emotions, both positive and negative. According to the Mental Health Foundation, in order to have good mental health we need to have the ability to “express and manage a range of positive and negative emotions.” By being over-the-top positive, any emotions we associate with negativity are pushed away and ignored. Ignoring how we feel can lead to bottling up our feelings, such as anxiety or anger, which may later boil over and become more severe.
Signs of Toxic Positivity:
- Ignoring and hiding how you feel
- Feeling guilty about your own emotions
- Focusing solely on the positive, e.g. “at least you aren’t…”
- Telling other people how to feel, instead of acknowledging it
- Shaming/Threatening others when they are not positive
- Brushing them off “It is what it is”/“It do be like that sometimes”
Why is it bad for us?
Underestimating Real Harm:
As you try to keep a positive front, it will prevent you from feeling and expressing any other emotions beside those that are positive. Other emotions such as stress or anger can be protective, and serve as warning signs of unhealthy relationships and issues. Being overly optimistic and ignoring possible harm could put you in real danger.
Those who face pressure to be constantly smiling and happy are less likely to reach out for help, and likewise, fewer people will offer help to check-in on them. They may feel a loss of connection to others and with themselves, as they are unable to relate to others. Ultimately, it may lead to pushing others away as being dishonest with your own emotions may deter others from being vulnerable and sharing their struggles.
Feeling like a failure:
Having ‘good vibes only 24/7’ is impossible as we feel a wide range of emotions. The longer negative emotions are bottled up, the more they can fester and become worse. By not being honest with your own emotions and expressing them openly – at the very least to yourself – an unrealistic expectation may be set. Suggesting that we have failed whenever we are not positive, may result in low self-esteem.
Does that mean I can be negative?
Absolutely! We all have a variety of emotions, including negative ones. Doing something as simple as identifying and acknowledging them is crucial to maintain our mental wellbeing. Negative emotions can act as a warning, for example, stress may be a reaction to a challenge or demand. It can be helpful in short bursts to motivate you and meet deadlines but in overwhelming amounts, it can be debilitating. Vocalising to yourself can also help with dealing with these emotions but talking to others can be incredibly helpful. Simply checking in with your friends and family can go a long way even though it may feel a bit awkward. To ease into the conversation there are WhatsApp Stickers available from Mind Hong Kong’s #HowOkayAreYou campaign.
Helpful Statements to Support Others:
|Statements with Toxic Positivity||Accepting and Validating Statements|
|“Good vibes only”||“I’m here if you want to talk about it”|
|“It could be worse”||“That sounds rough, I’m sorry”|
|“If I can do it, you can too!”||“Everyone’s journey will be different, we all work at it in our own pace”|
|“Don’t worry be happy”||“That sounds incredibly stressful, is there anything I could help with?”|
|“Failure is never an option”||“Failure helps us learn from our mistakes”|