Friday, July 10, 2020

Friday Feature: Toxic Positivity

I'm a big fan of positive psychology. I love the concept of expanding on what's right instead of focusing what's wrong. 

But the truth is, we need both. Life is not always rosy and sometimes we need to acknowledge the bad in order to get to the good. In other words, we really can have too much of a good thing. But, up until yesterday, I never knew there was a name for it.

Toxic positivity.

Toxic positivity is in evidence when we focus so insistently on the good that we fail to acknowledge any down side to a situation, or even to life itself. According to an article in the Huffington Post by Brittany Wong, toxic positivity is rising during the pandemic in which we find ourselves fueled, in part, by social media posts that tell us if we're not seeing time at home and social distancing as opportunities for self-improvement, then we're doing it wrong. 

But humans aren't machines, and failing to acknowledge sadness, loss and fear doesn't make those feelings go away, nor does sweeping them under the carpet with the broom of productivity or vacuuming them up with a positive attitude.

It's essential that we recognize that sadness and fear are a part of the human condition, something that no reputable positive psychologist would dispute. Productivity and positive attitudes can be tools in coping with those emotions if we use them to keep ourselves from descending into a dark place and taking up residence there, but they aren't a cure. And, when we use these tools to shove our feelings into a closet and lock them away, that's toxic. The feelings aren't gone; they're just locked behind a door waiting to accost us when we turn the knob and release them.

Life is complicated. We are complicated. We are good and bad, happy and sad, light and darkness. Our goal should be to acknowledge and come to terms with both sides of our complex selves and find a balance between them. Only then can we build the resilience that is necessary to hold on to mental health in a time that threatens to rob us of it. 

At least that's what I think.

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