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The Hidden Hazards of Toxic Positivity

14 October 2023 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


In today's world, 'positivity' is often touted as the ultimate remedy. Through platforms like social media and well-meaning advice, we're urged to always 'choose happiness,' often neglecting genuine emotions like anger or pain. While these sentiments seem helpful, they often overshadow our true feelings, leading us into the realm of toxic positivity.

The Dark Side of Positivity

“We’re conditioned, from a very young age, to label certain emotions as good or bad. So, while happiness is good or desired, other emotions such as sadness, guilt, jealousy and anger are considered negative or undesirable. This is an erroneous classification, no emotion is good or bad. The expectation that a human being will always remain in the realm of joy is unnatural. As part of the human experience, we should experience our full range of emotions,” explains Dr Nahid Dave, a psychiatrist at Thought Matters. At its core, it propagates the belief that one should perpetually harbour a sunny, optimistic mindset, irrespective of the storms life might bring. However, this unwavering insistence on maintaining positivity, experts warn, could spawn a myriad of profound complications over time.

Dr Dave elucidates that in the relentless pursuit of perennial happiness, individuals inadvertently sidestep emotions branded as negative, often unaware of the potential pitfalls this approach engenders. “They seek instant gratification to shut out these [negative] feelings, which can result in food and substance abuse,” she adds.

Shedding light on the underbelly of toxic positivity, counselling psychologist Namrata Jain adds that while those propagating it might genuinely believe in its merit, the internal toll can be overwhelming. The continual strain to keep up an ever-positive facade can push individuals into repressing their genuine emotions, culminating in a lack of authenticity in their engagements and possible burnout. Additionally, this incessant projection of positivity can make them seem indifferent, even dismissive, affecting personal relationships and diminishing their empathetic connections with others.

“For the recipient, being subjected to toxic positivity can be invalidating and disempowering. When someone is going through a challenging situation, receiving constant messages like ‘just think positive’ or ‘everything happens for a reason’ may make them feel unheard or misunderstood,” says Jain. It can add to their emotional burden and prevent them from expressing their authentic feelings. This can lead to a sense of guilt, shame, or self-blame for not being able to maintain a positive outlook.”

“The recipient of such advice may also feel discouraged from seeking support or sharing their struggles, fearing judgment or further dismissal,” she elaborates. On a physiological level, the trauma that results from suppressing these feelings can cause physical ailments, clinical psychologist and trauma therapist Seema Hingorrany explains: “We’ve seen cases of arthritis, PCOD, PCOS, gastric problems, autoimmune disorders, and even cancer. This is the result of your cells storing trauma”.



Redefining Emotional Awareness

Rather than pushing away unsettling feelings, embracing and recognising them is crucial. From there, one can decide the best reaction, suggests Dr Dave. Furthermore, she emphasises that the prevalence of toxic positivity is often fuelled by social media platforms, especially when these feeds showcase an endless stream of 'perfect' days, painting an unrealistic picture of constant happiness.

“Be mindful about who you follow. Learn to differentiate between what you are watching and what emotions you are feeling. At the same time, be mindful about your own body’s emotional cues. As an exercise to be more present, at the end of each day, think about which emotions you strongly felt and the people or situations that triggered that emotion. Note this down in a diary and then think about whether you would like to respond differently to those individuals or scenarios. Be conscious about not invalidating your emotions; just notice them,” says Dr Dave. 

Incorporating insights from both her personal journey and research, Hingorrany emphasises that consistent self-care and timely vitamin intake have proven to be effective buffers during challenging times. “Personally, I find solace in nature walks. Supplements, especially B12, D3, and magnesium, with a daily dose of 200 mg during trying moments, are crucial for mental stability. However, it's essential to consult a healthcare professional before starting any regimen. Remember, mental health often intertwines with proper nutrition,” she says.

Hingorrany further advocates for actionable steps over mere optimistic rhetoric. Hingorrany recommends allocating a minimum of ten minutes each day for silent introspection. She advocates for the acceptance of all feelings, including the traditionally viewed negative ones. She suggests that melodies or mantras can be therapeutic, and underscores the importance of surrounding oneself with understanding individuals. Furthermore, she endorses the idea of consulting a therapist when possible.

In essence, intentional self-reflection and seeking genuine support can pave the way for a balanced emotional journey.


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