When Positivity Hurts

Is there such thing as “too happy”?

Apparently there is. It’s called “toxic positivity”. Something I had started hearing whispers of over the past year, seemingly during the pandemic because, let’s face it, the past 18 months were kinda shitty! Yes, putting on a smile can be helpful during hard times, but it can also be hurtful – not only to you, but to others as well.

A couple toxic positive experiences I have had are:

Back in 2006/2007 I got pregnant. Notice the lack of photos of a child in my life? Yup, I had a miscarriage. I had two, in fact. I had another in 2008 or so. One thing people would say is “everything happens for a reason” and “at least it was early in the pregnancy”. Saying those things made me feel that I had no right to grieve or be sad or angry, or talk about my feelings. Comments like those made it seem that they didn’t want to listen to my struggles.

And when my dad passed away in 2016, I heard “at least it didn’t drag on”, and “at least he didn’t suffer”. And, yes, as much as I do recognize how good as that was, I spent a week entrenched in a side of life I never thought I would have to navigate my way through. I had to be the strength for my mom and, 5 years later, I’m just starting to allow myself to grieve. Having someone say “It’s for the best” makes me hesitant to open up and be vulnerable.

I get it. Truly. Hard emotions are hard – whether or not they’re yours. Before I had those experiences, I wouldn’t know how to respond to someone going through that, but the world doesn’t need more people shut down – it needs more compassion and empathy.

People who are going through difficult times can’t just decide to “be happy” – it’s more complex than that. People with depression can’t just flip a switch. If there is stressors in your life out of your control, it’s really hard to dig out of a slump so long as the stressors remain. And let’s be honest, the stressors from the last year have been insane. From the pandemic, BLM and the riots, Trump’s presidency being defeated by Biden, new vaccine, Asian hate, conspiracy theorists, bodies of indigenous children being found at Residential schools unmarked graves, indigenous rights, heat wave in BC and the burning of Lytton, Gulf of Mexico on fire, NYC flooding, Japanese land slide, Texas freezing, condo collapse in Florida, assassination of the Haitian President… like, holy shit! The last 18 months have been insane!!!! And these are just things I can think off the top of my head.

Take all of these highly stressful situations and people are stuck at home, some unable to work, businesses closing, etc, it seems like everyone has become an armchair warrior and there is zero accountability. People have become hyper sensitive – and yet incredibly insensitive at the same time. It seems like people go out of their way to be rude and cruel to strangers when people are simply trying to get by.

Toxic positivity comes across as not caring about anything but yourself. And, yes, you do need to care for yourself, but when you have actual human contact and you keep that “happy-go-lucky” attitude, you come across as cold hearted, self-centered, and uncaring. Some other ways toxic positivity is harmful:

It’s shaming; shame is so toxic. When you feel shame, you want to keep those things hidden. There’s typically many emotions wrapped up in shame and it can be complex to digest. “Why do I have to be so sensitive?”, “If I had been more responsible, I could have prepared for losing my job”. We over analyze every single action and reaction of what we’re feeling shame about – and if you’re around overly positive people, it could cause you to shut down.

My current and new supervisor is overly positive. It drives me crazy. There’s been a couple times I’ve snapped at her because I was trying to express what I was feeling and she kept dismissing it. This will be the biggest stress of my job now. She seems so concerned about us liking her, she’s creating an overly positive (in her mind) environment, but it’s going to be hard being truthful with her.

Causes guilt; over the last 18 months with the pandemic, I have felt incredibly guilty complaining about everything because we know we had it SO lucky compared to so many others. If things had started just 6 months earlier, things would have been VERY different for us.

However, it didn’t make things any easier. Emotionally and psychologically, it was draining. My husband went through bouts of depression, anxiety, anger, and frustration. When I expressed this at work, it was always “well, at least he’s getting paid”. Yes, we didn’t have that to worry about, but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t hard and it didn’t suck.

“We may not be in the same boat,

But we’re on the same ocean.”

Avoid authentic human connection; if you are constantly happy, why would anyone open up to you? It wouldn’t seem like you would have anything in common – how could you possibly understand? You’ve heard the saying “misery loves company”? Having similar emotions – whether or not you share the same experience – brings people closer together.

Look at the BLM riots after the murder of Floyd, or the Indigenous residential school discoveries – people came together dispite their obvious differences; the collective outrage brought the oppressed and their allies together. Toxic positivity had no place in those situations.

Becomes an avoidance mechanism; “my life is amazing! I have no problems! Everything is exactly how it should be”… what are you avoiding? Did you lose your job and bills are piling up? Has a rift grown between you and your spouse/children/parents? Has something developed health wise and you’re avoiding going to the doctor? Toxic positivity is a negative coping mechanism to avoid dealing with problems – just like drugs or alcohol.

As good as it is to maintain a positive attitude, you do need to acknowledge ALL emotions. I picked up this “only good vibes” mug a couple of years ago… but I know how flawed that is now. ALL emotions are valid and should be felt.

 

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