As someone who advocates and facilitates personal development, I know the value of a positive outlook and having a growth mindset. Still, in the personal development industry, I see too many "success coaches" pushing a positive mindset without ever discussing its dark side that comes in the form of toxic positivity.
While the "good vibes only" mentality can seem harmless, it can inhibit our personal growth and emotional well-being.
Toxic positivity is the act of constantly slapping a positive spin on things, often by dismissing or suppressing legitimate negative emotions.
Think of it as "Don't worry, be happy!" on steroids.After all, we're humans equipped with a full spectrum of emotions, not just the Instagram-worthy moments of joy and success.
We feel sad. We feel angry. We grieve and fear, and it's okay; it's a normal and healthy part of the human experience. Toxic positivity often leaves people feeling unable to share their real struggles.
Platitudes like "Look on the bright side!" or "Everything happens for a reason," especially when someone is suffering, can invalidate their pain, conveying that their feelings are wrong or unwelcome. This kind of judgment isolates people and stifles their healthy coping mechanisms.
When someone we care about is going through a tough time, it's natural to want to help them feel better. However, our instinct to be a cheerleader sometimes does more harm than good.
Instead of trying to lift them out of their funk, listen with empathy, offer comfort, and validate their experiences. Avoid minimizing their feelings by saying things like, "This is nothing. You got this, champ!".
Remember, the most supportive thing we can do is to offer a safe space for them to express themselves without fear of judgment or pressure to "move on."
When going through a funk, sometimes, the best course is to sit with the darkness, get curious about the insights it offers, and process it through journaling, counselling, or simply allowing ourselves a good cry.
Avoiding our negative emotions doesn't make them vanish; instead, they simmer under the surface, waiting to pop at the least opportune moments. When someone comes to me upset, I've learned to hold space for them to express themselves without rushing to "fix" their feelings. Often, what they need most is to feel seen and supported through their struggle.
The constant pressure to maintain a positive façade can create a cycle of perfectionism and unrealistic expectations for ourselves.
Embrace life's natural ebbs and flows and recognize that our most challenging times often pave the way for significant personal growth.
Give yourself permission to experience the full range of emotions, trusting that every hurdle is an opportunity to emerge stronger and more resilient.
Next time you're tempted to tell someone having a tough go to "look on the bright side," instead, consider how you can support them through their darkness. Being there for someone through the hard times can lead to light and growth in ways you might not expect.
I am wishing you well on your journey. Remember, it's about finding balance in positivity, embracing our emotions with agility and compassion, and fostering genuine connections through open, authentic conversations.
Here are a few strategies to help
- Embrace Emotional Agility: Cultivate the ability to navigate your emotions with flexibility. It's about allowing yourself to feel deeply, whether those feelings are positive or negative, and responding to them with awareness and compassion.
- Practice Authentic Listening: Whether you're a leader, a coach, or a friend, listen to understand, not to fix. When someone shares their struggles, resist the urge to blanket their feelings with positivity. Instead, offer a space where all emotions are valid and heard.
- Seek Balance in Positivity: Aim for a balanced perspective that acknowledges the good without overshadowing the challenges. It's about finding genuine optimism that coexists with reality, not in denial of it.
- Cultivate Self-Compassion: Be kind to yourself in moments of struggle. Recognize that being human means experiencing a wide range of emotions, and it's okay not to be okay.
- Encourage Open Conversations: In your circles, advocate for discussions that embrace both the light and dark sides of life. It's through these conversations that we can foster deeper connections and understanding.