Positive vibes only! I’m positive that many of you have heard that phrase time and time again. Whether it’s a post from a ditsy person you follow or from a friend and/or coworker that is cleaning house on the dim vibes their social circle is providing in excess, there’s no shortage of this mentality nowadays. There’s nothing discernable with excluding things and at times people from your life that drain you more than inspire you but there’s always a logical extreme that a new perspective can invite. Inside these artificial injections of good feelings into varying difficulties in life lies a dark side to the dosage that proves just as harmful as a purely pessimistic point of view.
Toxic positivity is that extreme in which any perceived negative experience is rendered mute when one simply brushes said event aside with a positive note. Indeed there is nothing wrong with trying to toughen one’s hide when school or work or romance isn’t playing fair by remaining bright in dark moments but people should proceed with caution. The problem arises with the excess of this method, treating things like sadness, anger, or even criticism with the same vigor as a household pest. Emotions are infinitely more complex than that. Despite mental protests to feelings of sadness, the emotion felt shouldn’t be suppressed with a faux smile but rather it should be simply felt and hopefully dealt with. It won’t be easy especially during the trial but as the age-old adage of the only way out is through ultimately etches the proper mode of operation.
Negative feelings aren’t necessarily blights to be excised like an infection it’s a natural part of being a healthy person in an ever-challenging world. It sets a terrible precedent when you ask troubled young individuals to refuse their emotions with thoughts like “You’re doing great” and “Think happy thoughts”. In reality, it mostly leads to insidious feelings of guilt over being angry or sad in the first place. The feedback loop occurs when this guilt born of dismissiveness leaves no room for psychological growth because the negativity wasn’t dealt with nor was it properly felt, it was crudely jammed under the floorboards of the mind. When the next tear-worthy event happens the same few sayings are used again starting the process anew. If it’s not put in check with a fair amount of honesty then the nightmarish wheel turns unending eventually leading the individuals into a delusional point of view about negativity whether constructive or otherwise.
As a sufferer of depression myself, I’m well aware of the damaging effects of dishonest thoughts on both edges of the spectrum. Overtly negative thought cycles were the norm when my case was at its worst and it took what seems like forever to fish myself out of that hole. The stepping stones weren’t built from the same material each level up, it was consistently inconsistent. I didn’t climb from thoughts of radical positivity nor did I purely run off the noxious fumes of self-hate. I appreciated both sides and added a dash of objectivity until months passed and I realized I was in a better place than before.
Soon I’d come across social media posts pushing for this toxic positivity point of view to followers for years with it seemingly peaking on the biggest platform of the medium Tik Tok. In between the short clips of paunchy women cutting jigs to random pop music are videos of young men and women pushing for everyone to always feel wonderful. I don’t wish to siphon the message of its goodness as I know these can be healthy reminders to take life a little less seriously when things get tough but there should be a cap. Sweet thoughts like these should be taken in moderation like candy lest viewers risk a life ache so to speak. It’s a classic case of impact versus intention because these content creators are usually sufferers themselves the last thing they’d want is for people’s cases to worsen from their message. Thankfully there is a better way to deal out positivity without it morphing into an ouroboros of a self-hating head eating its own patronizing tail.
Toxic positivity gained a decent amount of traction in the literary world as well. Recently the phenomenon amassed a handful of authors to write books against the belief system albeit in a more righteous fashion. Books like Briah Fleming’s Be Positive: Fuck Toxic Positivity and T.R. Tucker’s Toxic Positivity are just a few of many short books that affirm a positive attitude toward life while acknowledging negativity in a healthy way to ward off the toxicity of either end of the thought spectrum. Tucker’s entry even warns of the ever-increasing verbiage of motivational speakers as a particularly unrecognized sore spot since the coming of the digital age. These authors seek a more honest approach to alleviate the anxious and depressed while making sure the feelings being dealt with are at the very least constructive to someday inspire hope in the troubled hearts of so many out there, not purely striving off of it. So in the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Month, I’d also like to throw in a positive yet diligent thought to my fellow depressives out there dealing with some less than favorable times:
Hope is life’s sweetest spice. It enhances the flavor of any recipe it touches but it is not the whole recipe. It’s not the meat nor the vegetables for spices can only mold the working parts together into true satisfaction but the spice can be deceiving. It can fool the most skilled of tounges into believing it’s the only delicious component. It convinces them so much so that the deceived fill their mouths with spice until it foams and forces them to crudely cough the specks of what was once pure and beautiful toward the starving few. The meat and the broth and the vegetables aren’t beautiful like the spice in fact some are truly grueling but they’re all key in the recipe. Each part working to culminate to true satisfaction only to be brought together with only a pinch of vigor. As such life needs hope but it is not the whole recipe. Use your spices wisely my friends.