Sorry, Monty Python, it turns out that always looking on the bright of life can actually be bad for you. In 2020, while it’s tempting to turn a blind eye to the present realities of stressfully living through a pandemic and rampant poisonous political rhetoric, erring on the side of only seeing the positive can backfire if those around you feel they’ve been denied validation.
“When you are choosing to look at situations from one perspective — in this case a positive perspective — you are very likely to dismiss or minimize an authentic experience,” says Jamie Long, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist in Fort Lauderdale, Florida (via CNN). And whether it’s a spouse’s job loss or a co-worker’s complaint about social isolation, responding with “It’s all for the best,” or “Things could be worse,” could indeed make the situation worse by shaming the affected party. This is what’s called “toxic positivity.”
Here's how to keep toxic positivity in check
The truth is, people are struggling in 2020, and it’s healthy for their feelings to be acknowledged rather than suppressed. “The pressure to appear ‘OK’ invalidates the range of emotions we all experience,” explains Carolyn Karoll, a psychotherapist in Baltimore, Maryland (via Healthline). “It can give the impression that you are defective when you feel distress, which can be internalized in a core belief that you are inadequate or weak.”
If you have a loved one or friend going through a tough time, make them feel heard and accepted by offering validation for their feelings instead of unsolicited advice. Likewise, seek ways to express your negative emotions rather than stuffing them down. Research has shown that putting how you feel into words can lessen the intensity of emotions such as anger and frustration, so try talking about these feelings with a supportive bestie or writing them down on paper the next time they bubble up. “Judging yourself for feeling pain, sadness, jealousy — which are part of the human experience and are transient emotions — leads to what are referred to as secondary emotions, such as shame,” says Karoll. “They distract us from the problem at hand, and [they] don’t give space for self-compassion, which is so vital to our mental health.”
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