Toxic Positivity: Why Excessive Positive Vibes Are Problematic.

In an era of crystals, sage, life coaches and happy faces on social media, optimism seems to be running rampant. While it is always a plus point to see the sunny side up instead of down, too much positivity can lead to toxicity. It can take you away from the reality of the situation and also alienate you from others. Here we dwell on how excessive positive vibes are problematic and the importance of striking the balance.

What is toxic positivity?

In a Ted Talk of ‘How toxic positivity leads to more suffering’, Mahmoud Khedr, Co-founder and CEO of FloraMind threw light on what this means. “Toxic positivity is the push for a mental state in which we only experience and show positive emotions. It is a tendency to react to others suffering and struggles with reduced statements of positivity.”

He spoke about his struggles in life and thoughts of suicide. Not seeing the reality of what things were sent him spiralling downwards. The founder stated, “Being positive as I came to understand it meant completely avoiding the problem and focusing on something good.” He further went on to say, “It divides emotions into good or bad and demonises certain emotions. Toxic positivity blocks people from seeking help.”

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Why excessive positivity is toxic

Anything in excess is never good for anyone, even if it comes with its own set of advantages. Here are some of the reasons why excessive positivity can be toxic…

It can lead to depression

This might sound contradictory but too much happiness can lead to depression. One of the reasons behind it being the suppression of emotions. When negative emotions are linked to something bad, individuals are likely to feel more sad and unhappy about having it. As per a 10 year Stanford study, it was discovered that denial of negative feelings as a coping mechanism was associated with higher levels of depression.

It takes you away from reality

Looking at everything through rose-tinted glasses can take you away from the reality of the situation. It casts a blinder on what is happening around you or the ones you love. For instance, when it comes to unhappiness in a job, an observant person will try to identify the reasons behind it and take the necessary actions to make things right. On the other hand, someone who is overly optimistic will continue like there is nothing wrong till it reaches a point where it is too late for damage control.

Can lead to unnecessary judging and shaming

As per Dr Susan David, Psychologist of Harvard Medical School and author of Emotional Agility who conducted a research over 70,000 people, around one-third of us tend to judge ourselves for having negative emotions such as anger, grief or just being sad. While going into any tunnel of so-called bad feelings can be detrimental to one’s health, continuously associating it with something that you believe you are not supposed to can make you feel ashamed of the person you are. This can be toxic for not only your confidence but also come in the way of day to day functioning as well.

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Can alienate you from others

Having a happy go lucky attitude no matter what the situation can make you come across as an insensitive person. People are looking for someone who can empathise with them and the situation that they are going through. Let’s face it, some realities of life are just harsh and trying to put a positive spin on it can come across as ruthless. In the long run, it can alienate you from those who you care about.

Stops you from seeking help

Mahmoud Khedr in his talk threw light upon the repercussion of toxic positivity. He said,  “It instantly shuts down the emotional conversation.” As per him, the opportunity to seek help or someone else to seek help is gone. This can be dangerous on many levels as getting the right attention at the right time can save one from going down a black hole or even from losing life. As per a study on ‘Emotion Suppression and Mortality Risk Over a 12-Year Follow-up’ it was found out that ‘emotion suppression may convey risk for earlier death, including death from cancer.’

How to deal with excessive positivity

If and when you feel that you are walking towards the path of excessive positivity, the below pointers can help you going in the right direction.

Do not suppress your emotions

It is important to acknowledge what you are going through, whatever that emotion might be. Only when you address it, it can get better. It is proven that the individuals who recognise and accept their feelings end up doing much better in life than those who do not. An ideal way to do this is to start writing. As per a brain imaging study conducted at UCLA, putting feelings into words can minimise emotions like sadness, anger and pain.

Seek counselling and help

If you recognise that you or a loved one is undergoing depression or a trauma of any sort, it is advisable to seek professional help. An expert can identify what is going on beneath the layers and counsel accordingly. Help given at the right time can set yourself or your loved one on the right path and even save lives.

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Find meaning in the things you do

It is not possible to be happy with whatever you do. Many times, the things you love can also come with their own set of banes. When you find meaning and purpose in your action or choices, it automatically shifts you from overflowing emotions to a reason that resonates with you.

Offer empathy to those around you

Instead of putting a cheery spin on anything anyone is saying, it will be more humane to lend a listening ear. The individual going through a tough time needs to know that you are there in his/her testing times. Rather than saying things like ‘whatever happens, happens for the good’ or ‘it is important that you see the positive side of the situation’ say ‘I am here to help’ and ‘if there is any way to make the situation better do let me know’.

Be realistic

The flavour of life when dreaming big and seeing the larger scheme of things is unlike any other. But while doing so, do not forget to miss out on the little details of life and be realistic. If you are in pain, go see the doctor just like if a situation makes you unhappy, analyse it and see what about it is not conducive.

Life is all about balance and when it tips over on one side of the scale, it can lead you astray and make you unhappy. Instead of being blinded by the excess of positive vibes, it is best to combine it with a realistic and honest approach.

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