Let me start by saying we are not negative people. Quite the opposite. At Verbarium, we are all firm believers in the power of positive vibes! 😊👍
But while having a positive outlook on life is undoubtedly the best approach, too much of a good thing is never good!
As with everything else in life, we can also “overdose” on positive vibes! 🦄 🌈 🍀 🧿 🦋 🍭 🌞
This is called toxic positivity, as it eventually leads to harmful behaviors of emotional invalidation. Positivity aims to improve well-being and happiness but, interestingly, overusing it can cause exactly the opposite!
Unveiling this darker side of positivity is an important topic because of the potential negative impact on our mental health and well-being.
What is Toxic Positivity?
Toxic positivity can be defined as the belief that people should maintain a positive mindset at all times, even when faced with difficult or negative situations. This involves suppressing negative emotions and invalidating human experiences and feelings, which can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms, and even trauma or isolation. ❤️🩹
Actions and attitudes that would be considered as “positively” toxic include the avoidance or repression of unpleasant feelings or the pressure to pursue a permanent state of happiness.
If positivity is used to mask or muffle human emotions, that’s where it becomes toxic, just like anything else done in excess.
This process results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the emotions we are experiencing. With enough pressure, we start to feel that even occasional sadness is shameful or unacceptable.
We are all flawed. We all occasionally experience sadness, anger, jealousy, resentment, fear, envy…. It’s healthy to acknowledge these feelings and try to better ourselves from there.
But if we start dismissing, denying or repressing these emotions by refusing to acknowledge their existence, they will become toxic.
These behaviors of rejecting, dismissing, or minimizing our feelings, perspectives, or experiences, or those of another, are called emotional invalidation.
It happens when we deny the validity of genuine human experiences and choose to feel “only positive vibes” all day, every day. In the end, we’ll end up pretending to be happy.
“Faking it till you make it” might make everything look fine for a while, but in the long run, it will create a lot of emotional pressure. 😰
On the other hand, when we force others to suppress their pain and suffering by focusing on “the bright side,” we are encouraging them to bottle things up inside and be silent about what they are really going through. 🤐
Negative emotions are not all bad
How do we learn if not by distinguishing the good from the bad?
We learn from negative experiences. If we keep evading, avoiding or silencing a negative experience, it will eventually explode in our hands. Avoidance or denial of suffering is but a different form of suffering.
When someone sends the message that only good feelings are allowed around them, it makes it difficult for others to express anything but “good vibes” in their presence.
Most of us don’t want to be seen as the “downer friend,” the one who gives off negative energies, so we choose to suck it up and pretend things are great.
Hiding or denying feelings can lead to a great deal of stress on the body and increase the difficulty of facing distressing thoughts and feelings. Also, suppressed emotions will later manifest in the form of anxiety, depression, and even physical illness. 💫 💫
The problem is not in positivity per se. The problem is in being too pushy about a positive mindset and invalidating people’s emotions by ignoring, denying, criticizing or rejecting their feelings. In the long run, this behavior will have negative repercussions on people’s mental health and well-being.
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing our attention on the present moment and accepting it without judgment, focusing on the positive aspects of the human experience, such as happiness, well-being, and growth. These techniques, which have been shown to help regulate our emotions, increase resilience, reduce stress, and improve overall health, put a strong focus on positivity.
But cultivating positivity and forcing positivity are two very different things.
Mindfulness is also about emotional validation, which is the act of acknowledging, accepting, and supporting our own and other people’s feelings, perspectives or experiences without judgment.
It’s important to acknowledge the reality of our emotions by verbalizing them and moving them out of the way, out of our bodies. This is what keeps us sane and healthy, and it relieves tension and stress. To get rid of negativity, we must first acknowledge and validate it. How do you fight something whose existence you deny?
Accepting ourselves as we are is the path to a healthy emotional and physical life. Acknowledging other people’s feelings promotes healthy, positive relationships.
Impacts of toxic positivity:
- Prevents people from processing and coping with their emotions in a healthy way, which can result in becoming emotionally numb or inept
- Reduces the ability to tolerate difficult thoughts and emotions and, consequently, it hinders the ability to adapt to change
- Increases stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness, as people feel isolated and unsupported by others
- Damages relationships, as people feel misunderstood, unheard, or judged
- Lowers self-esteem, as people internalize the message that their emotions are wrong or unacceptable
- Dismisses people’s genuine emotions and makes them feel guilty or ashamed, making them feel worse
And what about toxic positivity at work?
Same rules apply. A positive leader is certainly a good thing!
They inspire, motivate, and empower others to achieve their goals and fulfill their potential. They also create a positive work environment that fosters trust, collaboration, and well-being among employees.
But we’ve seen that being positive doesn’t mean invalidating people’s negative emotions.
In fact, emotional validation will have a much more positive impact in the workplace culture and environment, as well as on the well-being of both leaders and employees.
Impacts of toxic positivity in the workplace:
- It can lower employee engagement, motivation, and performance, as they feel unappreciated and unheard by their leaders or colleagues
- It can increase employee turnover, absenteeism, and burnout, as they feel stressed and frustrated at work
- It can damage trust, collaboration, and communication among coworkers and between coworkers and their leaders, as they feel alienated from their team or organization
- It can harm employee mental health and mental well-being, as it increases anxiety, poor self-esteem and emotional distress
Examples of emotional validation in the workplace:
- Listen actively and attentively to what others say and how they say it
- Express empathy and compassion for what they feel and why
- Reflect on what they said without judging
- Show interest and curiosity in their perspective or situation
- Ask open-ended questions to clarify or explore their feelings
- Affirm their strengths and abilities to cope with challenges
- Offer support or assistance if needed or requested
So, we’ve seen the importance of avoiding toxic positivity and instead practicing emotional validation at work and in all aspects of our lives.
Now check out our infographic for some examples of emotional validation to help people cope with their emotions and foster psychological resilience:
Being a healthy and balanced person involves being aware of ourselves and how we present ourselves to others.
If you recognize yourself as someone who practices toxic positivity, it’s time to stop. ☢️
This mindset can be harmful to both yourself and the people you care about. Instead of toxic positivity, strive for balance and accept both positive and negative emotions.
If, on the other hand, you are suffering with the toxic positivity of another person, start setting boundaries. Don’t let them judge you and have the power to prevent you from being authentic and speaking your truth.
- Think positively: be truthful about how you feel and be positive about how you think; it can shape how you perceive situations and helps maintain an approach to life and its changes.
- Be positive about the future outlook: you can’t pretend the things that happened in the past didn’t hurt you, but nothing stops you from having positive vibes about things yet to come.
- Engage in healthy, positive activities: choose activities that are healthy and beneficial and that add meaning to your life; find meaningful work, take care of your body, and start or continue a hobby that helps you cope with daily stress.
To wrap things up…
Remember that finding balance is the key. It’s okay to make mistakes along the way as long as you learn from them and keep moving forward.
Life is so imperfectly beautiful—embrace the full experience and reap the rewards of living fully. 🧬 🌀 ✨
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