Signs we may be assimilating toxic positivity can include:
Invalidation of negative emotions: All emotions have value: they are signals, communication that start in the brain, then go into the body and back to brain, where we cognitively label them, and are an indicator to how we feel at any given time. When we bypass, blunt, stuff, deny, or numb the negative ones, the energy of the negative emotions can’t release. I love Dr. Jill Bolte-Taylor’s work on the “90 second emotions rule,” as it explains the science behind that “rule.” When people invalidate our negative emotions, it can lead us to believe that our emotions are “wrong,” and because we can’t just ‘change how we feel’ in the body, that can make us bypass and stuff down the energy of our own emotions.
Overemphasizing positive thinking: Pressuring ourselves and others to always focus on the positive causes us to ignore the complexity of emotions. The cultural emphasis on positivity can lead us to ignore our own emotions and delay or prevent our healing.
Avoidance of negative topics: Unwillingness to discuss or address challenges, or insisting that we, or others, maintain a façade of positivity is the mask people wear when disconnected from emotions! Behaving as if there is nothing “negative” in the world or, at the very least, not permitting others to talk about anything viewed as “negative,” can cause emotional isolation and more pain.
Minimization of struggles: Downplaying or minimizing real difficulties and challenges instead of acknowledging and addressing them, along with downplaying or minimizing the emotional responses in the body disconnects us from emotions. Having our emotions or experiences minimized can cause us to doubt ourselves and can also lead to social isolation, and of course…more shame.
Forced positivity: Encouraging individuals to suppress or deny their true feelings in favor of a cheerful exterior teaches us to suppress our emotions. The whole “look on the bright side” attitude that we are culturally encouraged to favor does this. Then again, if we don’t look on this “bright side” and we instead sit in the emotions that maybe aren’t pretty, we are told (or it is implied) that we are doing things “wrong,” that we are not doing things well enough, not trying hard enough, or that we are in “victim” mentality. (A question I ask clients a lot is, what if it’s not “victim” thoughts or behaviors, but grief?) Insisting that we — or others — be “positive” no matter what has happened or is happening in our lives disconnects us from our own emotions and makes us feel more inadequate.
Blame for negativity: Projecting blame onto individuals for their “negative” emotions (like anger, grief, frustration, loneliness, etc.) when we can’t control emotions in the body is basically an implication that individuals are responsible for their own unhappiness (anger, grief, etc.) and are doing something wrong if they are feeling that way. Toxic positivity adds blame and shame to someone’s emotional disconnect by attempting to force them to “control” or suppress any of their less than positive emotions. This is Survivor Shaming!