Oct 15th, 2020, 08:00 AM

Fake A Smile

By Julia Orr
"Think Positive" by tango 48. Creative Commons.
When Positivity Turns Toxic

Some people would categorize me as a pessimist — I would say I’m a realist. Either way, I am not an optimist. Having been raised by my mother, whom I am convinced is one of the biggest optimists on the planet, I tend to remain suspicious of life and plan ahead. However, starting with quarantine, I decided to change my attitude. A global pandemic, a Trump presidency, these were my worst fears … and they had already happened. This gave me the freedom to actually find a more positive approach, thinking that even though all these terrible things were happening, I was in fact surviving them; and because I am surviving, I may have the opportunity to change things. This is not to say I am an optimist, but merely that I am optimizing my realism to avoid thinking that the bad in the world cancels out the good; in fact, they coexist. This is an article about their coexistence. 

Everyone knows pessimism is not a compliment. No one has ever said “look on the dark side of life!” There are many names for people who continually worry and fret, from “negative Nancy” to “wet blanket” to “a cynical f***ing buzzkill.” But what about the people that are always positive? Sounds great, right? The people that say “you can do it no matter what!” and the cheerleaders of the world that never outgrew their loud smiles. 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

💚Positivity is great - but only when it is from a place of understanding, empathy, sincerity, and connection . 💚Toxic positivity however minimises ones suffering, dismisses their struggle, and invalidates their emotions. It “misses the mark” and comes across jarring and inappropriate as the comment isn’t relatable / tangible to the other’s experience . 💚This is why it’s so important to continue to raise awareness about what depression really is and end any misconceptions - the more we can understand / connect with what one really goes through and the symptoms they fight, the more aligned our response can be . Drop three 💚💚💚 if you agree . 👇Comment below: What are some other examples of toxic positivity? What other editions would you like next? . 💫Follow @realdepressionproject for more . . . . . . . . #suicidepreventionmonth #suicidepreventionmonth2020 #suicidepreventionday #suicideawareness #suicideisnottheanswer #suicidequote #suicide #depression #depressionawareness #depressionhelp #anxiety #anxietyawareness #breakthestigma #endthestigma #stopthestigma #yourenotalone #endstigma #stigmafree #stigma #stigmafighter #supportsaveslives #mentalhealthawareness #mentalhealth #ptsd #trauma #mentalillness #bipolar #mentalillnessawareness #itsokaynottobeokay

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But, like all things, there is a dark side. Even to positivity. Maybe you have told someone your trauma, or even merely a complaint, and they responded “well that’s not so bad! Everything happens for a reason!” In my opinion, yes, everything may happen for a reason, but that reason may be because life is shit sometimes, and that’s not really the most comforting thing to hear. When confronted with someone trying to share a negative experience with me — whether that is them recounting showing up late to class or enduring abuse as a child — I try to actually and empathize with the emotions they feel. If you merely just gloss over someone else’s or your own pain, it can cause later trauma by masking, hiding, or smothering feelings that need to be expressed. Furthermore, it’s lazy to simply respond to someone sharing their pain with a “silver lining.” In fact, sometimes it’s even toxic. Toxic Positivity is a noun defined as “the overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state that results in the denial, minimization and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.” It can happen from a parent, a friend, or a coworker. Tell-tale signs involve using blanket statements of positivity to diminish your pain, and feeling small when you walk away from the conversation. Maybe you feel like you can’t share your trauma to a friend because they’ll tell you “oh, well, you’re a stronger person for it,” or share a complaint with a coworker because they’ll say “well that’s not so bad.” These little things that seem harmless can actually invalidate real emotions, leading to the next time you experience any form of trauma, burying it inside and telling yourself “you’re a stronger person for moving on, it’s not so bad.”

The problem with burying these emotions down inside and not having actual outlets is that the bad feelings don’t actually go away just because you want them to. You can’t “just keep smiling” to fix unpaid bills or “keep a positive outlook” to cure COVID. It’s deeply important to acknowledge the struggles of life in a healthy way, and feel as though you are receiving real feedback, in order to work through whatever the problem is and actually get through it. So, maybe you’re someone who always keeps things positive, good for you! But next time someone shares something that’s not positive with you, instead of using an automatic reaction to say some cheesy one-liner that doesn’t change anything, try actually acknowledging the suffering, and letting them know that it’s OK to feel bad while working through it. You may be surprised by how much better they feel after being given permission to acknowledge their true emotions. As Carl Jung said, “I’d rather be whole than good.”