The Rise of Toxic Positivity in the Era of Coronavirus
I’m talking to a good friend about how life has changed since Coronavirus.
It honestly feels good to state out loud and acknowledge how our quality of life has decreased in this era of COVID. Our jobs, kids, schooling, summer plans…nothing is safe, and there seems to be no end in sight.
I’m betting you can empathize.
My friend, however, did not. “Let’s look at the bright side! You are so lucky for so many reasons. Let’s focus on that, instead!”
She had good intentions, but her false cheer rubbed me the wrong way.
Turns out, there’s a name for it.
Positivity Turned Negative
Toxic positivity, according to Heather Monroe, a clinical social worker and director of program development at Newport Institute, is the idea that we should focus only on positive emotions and the positive aspects of life.
It’s the belief that if we ignore difficult emotions and the parts of our life that aren’t working as well, we’ll be much happier.
As we all probably have experienced, being able to talk through our struggles and concerns is incredibly beneficial.
Sharing the ups and downs of life with those we trust doesn’t exacerbate our problems. Instead, simply sharing our struggles can go a long way towards healing.
And having an empathetic friend understand how you feel can make you feel seen. In short, talking through hard things with good friends helps us feel less alone.
Forced optimism, on the other hand, doesn’t help us feel better. Instead, it only makes us feel worse.
Nowhere is toxic positivity more apparent than social media, especially now amid Coronavirus.
Memes and uplifting posts encouraging us to focus on our blessings or, even worse, take this time to write a book or remodel our homes or learn a second language, are hurting more than they help.
It is OKAY if your time during this pandemic is spent keeping your head above water. It is okay if your motto is simply “one day at a time” and you can do no more than the bare minimum.
This isn’t a spiritual or creative retreat. This is a pandemic.
So what can you do if you feel as though your struggles and low moments are downplayed by others and social media? Here are a few things that can help:
Recognize the validity of all of your feelings. Feeling happy and content? GREAT! Feeling down and unproductive? That’s great, too.
Recognize and accept your emotions for what they are. Emotions are cyclical. Sometimes you feel good about your life and state of the world, sometimes you don’t. You can go through many emotions within the course of a day, even through the course of an hour.
It’s all okay and it’s all valid.
Let it out. Find a therapist, an empathetic friend, a journal, a sketchbook or your running shoes.
Whatever you need to do to express your emotions in a safe place is a great starting point.
Write it out, talk it out, sing it out. Expressing yourself is a great form of healing.
Lastly, push back against comparative suffering.
Comparative suffering says I can’t be upset about this minor thing because others have it so much worse.
Comparative suffering squashes happiness and well-being. Instead, treat yourself (and others) with empathy. Empathy says “yes, this is a legitimate thing to feel sad about. Just because others have it worse doesn’t mean you can’t be upset about this.”
As researcher and author Brene Brown states:
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past decade, it’s that fear and scarcity immediately trigger comparison, and even pain and hurt are not immune to being assessed and ranked. My husband died and that grief is worse than your grief over an empty nest. I’m not allowed to feel disappointed about being passed over for promotion when my friend just found out that his wife has cancer…”
Everyone deserves to feel their feelings. Always.