toxic positivity

toxic positivity

don't worry be happy

an everyday moment:

Ever felt the pressure of ‘good vibes only’? I’m talking about those awkward moments when someone says something really self-deprecating (e.g. I’m not smart, pretty, etc etc.) and the immediate (albeit well-intentioned response) is ‘omg no you’re not, you’re amazing etc. etc.’ OR when they reveal that something happened sucks (a grade they’re dissatisfied with, feeling insecure, something in their life not going the way they envision) and they’re met with automised sayings like ‘look on the bright side’ ‘it’s okayyyy’. I don’t say these situations for you to shame yourself, I say these situations because I am literally this person sometimes. Another example is the tendency to become chappy-happy in the presence of someone who is down. The unconsciously thought is that my exaggerated cheerfulness will somehow infect them - but, then, it implies that things are not okay unless they feel positive too.

For me, the most insidious one is feeling somewhat like I’ve ‘failed’ in my day because I’ve experienced more anger, sadness, disappointment than usual. It’s as if I think that the only ‘acceptable’ way of living is to be happy and cruising through life without a care. And that is what characterises toxic positivity - it’s when positive emotions are seen as more morally favourable than negative emotions. Like you’re a better human if you’re positive.

a reflection:

One of the self-development trends that I always tried to get my head around were positive affirmations - ‘everything happens for a reason, i am successful, i am confident etc. etc.’. It all felt really fake for me. Like, I felt this trend could lead people down rabbit holes of just bypassing reality and sitting on a park bench repeating lists of affirmations over and over whilst hoping their life changes.

Affirmations are not a sham but when used like the above, positivity is incorrectly seen as the silver bullet to all life’s challenges. The thing is, positivity isn’t a cure for negative thoughts and moods. Compassion comes first, positivity comes later. The deal with these affirmations is that it becomes toxic once the affirmation (mood/belief) feels inauthentic, unrealistic and like a bandaid fix. It’s like repeating to yourself that you’re an ‘olympic runner’ when you never go on runs and it’s not part of your routine. You can continue repeating that to yourself (which may increase the likelihood of you taking actions aligned with an ‘olympic runner’) but if you’ve had a sedentary routine for a long time, this idea of being an ‘olympic runner’ feels super far-fetched and cause more discouragement than encouragement.

Just like we can delude ourselves with affirmations, we can also invalidate the struggles of others with how we respond and encourage a more ‘positive mindset’. It basically implies that they’re feeling shit because they’re just not ‘positive enough’. For instance, when someone saids ‘I feel like I’m not doing enough, I’m ugly, am I fat? etc., they’re sharing their lens with you, they genuinely sometimes view themselves this way and don’t know whether it’s true. It’s also super uncomfortable to respond to, cause this stuff usually lies underground, not really talked about or as this norm that everyone participates in. The scene that comes to mind is the one from Mean Girls when Regina, Karen and Gretchen pull their appearance apart and side-eye Cady to do the same. 

There are two types of these situations:

1) They just be lying

This is the one where what they’re saying or what you’re saying to yourself is actually not based in any real evidence. It’s when that immediate retaliation of ‘noo you’re amazing etc.’ comes up

It’s not that they’re not amazing, it’s that they currently don’t see themselves that way. And if you impose your view as ‘right’ and that they are super amazing when they feel like shit, there’s a huge disconnect between their experience and what they’re hearing they ‘should’ experience.

As a result, people often feel even more unseen, disconnected/delusional and feel like ‘but you’re not listening’. While you may not understand how they could think that about themself, it’s more helpful to acknowledge their experience - ‘damn that sucks’. (doesn’t mean you want them stuck there)

2) Wait, they're lowkey right

This one is way more common, cause we often only half bullshit ourselves. An example could be someone wearing an outfit and saying ‘ughhh I look so bad’ - and then the scary part is that you kind of agree with them.

say KIND of, because the truth is - you agree with their words but not what they imply. Usually if they asked ‘oh how does this look’, it’s easier to be honest and say oh personally i don’t think that goes with that. But when their insecurity comes in and feels dependent on your opinion, there’s the immediate pressure to be like ‘no, you don’t - you look SO good’.

Maybe you may see that they’re outfit is not working, but you don’t seem them as ‘looking bad/bad’ - and that’s the difference. They’re implying a fundamental deficiency about themself - and that’s the part you can disagree with. Honestly, there’s no need to play opposites and go ‘no you look SO good’, just feel into their frustration and maybe find a piece of clothing or an idea that can help.

 In whichever situation, there’s probably a time where you have had a similar experience to them - but this is NOT the same as participating in communal self-deprecation of ‘oh I’m unworthy, inadequate, i think i’m ugly too that’s normal’ kind of way. It’s more like, yeah, how you’re processing whatever life throws at you is valid. Life’s not sunshines and rainbows all the time - but at the same time - I trust that you can get through rough periods because I believe in your strength vs. showering them with praise of their strength and saying ‘you’ll be fineee’ when it’s clear they don’t feel fine.

magic in the mundane

In this way, I give it some space, and get them (or myself) to consider it. When I do this, I tend to get sick of their own lies/distortions of reality and explore other ways of seeing it. Even with myself, moments of insecurity- for example (being dissatisfied with a mark etc.), I acknowledge the dissatisfaction and write my heart out with how angry, sad I feel as opposed to feeling angry for not moving on quicker. When I’m honest about the dissatisfaction. I can actually see that the dissatisfaction is rooted in a desire of wanting to attain academic excellence where without that desire I would not be dissatisfied. When I reframe it that way, feeling dissatisfied isn’t a failure of ‘not being optimistic’, it’s a reminder that this is something I care about - so I can act on it. Another example is procrastination, if I’m scared to start an assignment, that means I care about the quality of my work, and the next logical action is to start the assignment and focus on the quality because that’s what the fear’s about. In this way, negative feelings can reflect the things we care the most about and reveal our values. If you feel intensely pissed off at someone skipping the line, you probably care about fairness so rather than acting on the impulsivity of anger, you can act on your value of fairness.

Another thing: positive affirmations need to be realistic. If I can’t conceive them as realistic then it won’t change anything purely because I can’t relate to it. Like if I have a goal but never take action and continuously repeat ‘I am successful’ I’m just going to feel so lost and discouraged. Something that helps me to make affirmations more relatable and actually have a place in my thoughts rather than just a morning ritual of ‘I am this, I am that’ is starting the affirmation/thought with ‘I would like etc.’ or ‘I would like to think that I can…’.

Some situations/examples: When I’m

Feeling doubt → ‘I would like to think that I am capable’ which can upgrade to ‘I would to demonstrate capability.

Reframing certain societal ideas that don’t help us → ‘I would like to think that ‘hard’ work doesn’t equate to exhaustion and let go of the idea that rest is only deserved when I’m drained from hard work’. or that I will only be acknowledged as deserving of success if people see that I worked to exhaustion.

Confidence/success (this is the most common overly positive affirmation) → ‘I would like to think that I can be confident’ or ‘I would like to practise doing small things to a high quality’ rather than I AM SUCCESSFUL, and BIG, and BOLD and you get it.

fromtheheart mantras:

  • Feeling like ‘things are happening TO me’ → can be reframed to → I’m healing, challenging situations happen because I need them to grow.
    • I used to really resent my upbringing, feeling like a lot of disordered eating habits came because of the way I was brought up and I saw myself as this victim of generational/cultural disordered-eating habits.
    • But really, if I was brought up in this non-existent ‘perfect’ childhood, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn how to develop a healthy relationship with eating, body image etc. And the audacity to view my parents of having mastered something like this when their own parents went through a war or when poverty was a much bigger reality is simply inconsiderate.
    • It’s the way I get to learn these things, and they get to see it happen with me in real time and adopt whatever works if they want to.


  • The dissatisfaction about a grade is actually a real, recent thing. And it hurt because it felt like an assignment that I had invested the most time, effort into + it was an assessment of the subject I actually care about.
    • The way I cried about it → I literally wrote in my journal ‘I may as well do my own thing in life and get heartbroken from mistakes/things not working out in entrepreneurship or something else if uni is this heartbreaking’
    • Reminder: challenges are here to provide the opportunity to demonstrate strength, you have to feel somewhat weak to build strength. I think it’s so innocent and beautiful that I had a vision of how well i wanted to do. Just because it doesn’t happen this time, doesn’t mean it will never happen. God/universe/higher power blah blah always delivers what I pray for → the failure is the refining process, it is an encouragement to try again because it equips me with the knowledge required so that the vision CAN happen - (AKA you can bet I will never get penalised for word count again).


  • The pressure of ‘pretty’ especially for women → i think humans are all visual-oriented, like we like looking at things that are aesthetically pleasing and we like to curate our own aesthetic. I don’t think there’s anything wrong. With that said, intentionally working on appearance is something that can be seen as vain, surface-level, show-offy, not modest, wasting money, lowers intellectual, actively attracting ‘weird’ attention or shallow - when people see it that way, it’s because all these undesirable qualities is what they associate ‘pretty’ with and it’s usually how they judge themselves if they try to ‘be pretty’ which sabotages their own journey with it.


from, the heart <3

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