Toxic positivity can erode our mental, emotional, and physical health. When we feel forced to appear happy, even when we’re exhausted, sad, or crumbling inside–the consequences can be devastating. In a world where perfectly curated images constantly tell us that we should be happy, upbeat, and smiling despite life’s natural ups and downs, it’s important to embrace ALL of our feelings–as “imperfect” as they may be.
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11 Powerful Tips for Freeing Yourself from Toxic Positivity
Boost Your Wellbeing by Embracing Your Emotions and Releasing the Pressure to be Perfectly Positive
Toxic positivity can erode our mental, emotional and physical health. When we feel forced to be happy, even when we’re exhausted, sad or crumbling inside, the short and long-term consequences can be devastating. In a world where perfectly curated images constantly tell us that we should be happy, upbeat and smiling despite life’s natural ups and downs, it’s important for us to be able to embrace all our feelings, as imperfect as they may be. We’ll focus on a real-life question.
“Everyone in my life seems to have it all together. It’s depressing to see and hear about my friends’ perfectly happy lives constantly, even if I realize I don’t know the full story. It’s not that I want my friends to be unhappy, but I’m tired of the toxic positivity and its effect on me. I feel worse all the time. Do you have any advice?” That question is the focus of the episode.
As a joy and fear expert, I strive to normalize all of our emotions. I work from the five-emotion paradigm. This paradigm simply states that we have five core emotions, anger, fear, sadness, joy and disgust. When we look at these emotions that arise organically from our gut to give us a message about how we’re feeling and what we need to do, it’s important for us to realize that they are all good. They are all normal. They are all healthy.
When we look at feelings, we have thousands of feelings, if only five emotions and feelings help us come to learn from our experience. For each emotion that we feel, that emotion comes from the gut and then goes up to the brain. We get a life experience that tells us how to interpret that particular emotion based on our history based upon experience and the outcome of thousands of feelings. That is why we each have a different response often to a certain stimulus.
You might see lemons and say, “That makes me feel joyful. I remember my grandmother giving me lemonade, and I felt happy and upbeat and alive.” Somebody else may look at lemons and feel disgusted, angry or sad because they may have had an experience where somebody shoved lemons in their face or threw lemons at them when they were bullied as a child.
The feelings that will come up when they see a lemon may be anger, fury, disappointment, guilt, and shame. We want to realize that there is a difference between feelings and emotions, and even though we often use them interchangeably, it is lovely to have an understanding so that we can properly address the question of the day.
What Is Toxic Positivity?
Moving next, what is toxic positivity? Toxic positivity involves pretending to be upbeat and optimistic in order to appear constantly happy, positive and perfectly okay. Unlike true authentic positivity, toxic positivity rejects the underlying natural emotions that are normal, such as sadness, anger, and fear. The pressure to be positive and upbeat stifles our legitimate feelings and emotions. It impacts our well-being in the short-term and the long-term.Toxic positivity can take a toll on the body, mind, and spirit! Join Dr. Carla to discover how to let go of the push to be perfectly positive with 11 empowering steps. Discover how to embrace all of your emotions to live your best, authentic life. Free… Click To Tweet
It’s okay. In fact, it’s necessary to not feel okay, upbeat and happy at times. We want to make room for all of our emotional states, all of our feelings states. All of our emotions are important and valid, not just our upbeat ones. Every emotion we have, sadness, anger, disgust, fear and joy, has a message that’s important to attend to.
Without getting lost in this too deeply, it’s important for us to realize that an emotion such as anger is important because it can tell us that somebody has crossed our boundaries, disrespected us, harmed us in some way. Each emotion has a similar message. It is there to give us very important information. When we slow down to truly listen to our emotions and feelings, we often find out that we do have a signal, a message waiting for us when we pause to reflect and take time to listen to what the emotion or the feeling is trying to tell us.When we slow down to truly listen to our emotions and feelings, we often find out that we have a message waiting for us. We need to pause, reflect, and take time to listen to what our emotions or feelings are trying to tell us. Click To Tweet
Next, when we ignore our emotions in order to take to stay happy and upbeat and positive, we are pushing down these very important messages that are trying to tell us something, something that’s important for the psyche and often for the body. Remember, when we ignore our emotions to stay positive, we’re going to sacrifice something at the other end. When we strive to be chronically positive, we can also become emotionally stunted. We can become reactive and mentally exhausted.
The emotional stunting comes from, if we try and stay with 1 or 2 emotions, we don’t get the chance to explore all of those other emotions that are available to us, all of those thousands of feelings that are out there waiting to be explored and understood embraced, so that can keep us stunted. We are shut down in 1 or 2 safe emotions or go to emotions such as anger. A lot of people get stuck in anger, like a lot of people can get stuck in positivity.
We can also become reactive. Why do we become reactive? Any time we compartmentalize emotions over and over and over again, they build up like hot boiling water and a tea kettle. They are going to come out through a physical illness or in a mental health issue. They will come out in a fit of rage, temper tantrums, and passive-aggressive comments. Trust me. Emotions will come out some way, maybe, not the way you want them or other people want them to come out, but they will come out. From my perspective, it’s always wise to look at them. Why have them come out sideways? Why not handle them responsibly? More on that later.
When we all look at the mental toll of trying to stay positive, it takes so much work. It takes so much effort to stay upbeat and positive when we are not. Of course, there are times when we do have to put on an okay phase. We’re picking up a child from school or going to work, and we won’t don’t want to be showing our spewing or maybe upset at a partner all over the place. We want to contain that until we are in a safe space and can process and manage it. There are times when we do want to put on a nice veneer momentarily to move through something. As soon as we get to a safe place, we process that underlying emotion that is once to be paid attention to.
When we don’t pay attention to our emotions, we can also suffer physically. We can have sleep issues. We can have health issues such as high blood pressure because if we are constantly trying to stay positive, which is not a normal state, it’s not normal to be constantly positive, we are going to suffer in some way. It’s often physically like migraine and headaches. All sorts of things can pop up that are related to toxic positivity.
There are many times in life when it’s very normal. Definitely acceptable to feel sad, angry, frustrated, irritable, confused, and blue. We want to again make space for all of these emotions because they’re all important. They’re all messengers. When we repress feelings, when we repress them and push them down, or have an it is what it is mindset or a victim-oriented mindset or a shutdown, holding it all in mindset, then we accept being less than who we are. We are accepting being less than that person who can notice their emotions appropriately, and handle, their emotions. Use the messages as in their emotions to move forward.
Remember, we don’t want to get into a place of constantly repressing our emotions. There’s always a total. Now, you’re biological, we are certainly meant to feel all of our emotions. If we cut off, for example, all of our other emotions except positivity, then think of it. If we have five core emotions, and we’re calling positivity joy, which it isn’t, but that’s an episode of its own, we’re cutting off 80% of our other emotions if we’re allowing one to be present.We are meant to feel all of our emotions. Click To Tweet
We’re only staying with that 20% of that feels like it’s what we should be doing, and you can imagine how we’re sacrificing 80% of our potential to show up as an amazing human being who is emotionally competent and has good emotional intelligence. I want to pay attention to that. That is unrealistic for us to imagine that we could or should cut off 80% of our emotional abilities.
The other important thing to notice when we’re talking about emotions is that there are no good or bad emotions. I’m sad to say many experts out there call some of our emotions negative emotions, and this perplexes me because there are no negative emotions. Every emotion is positive. It is healthy. It has messages.
How we use our emotions may be negative or positive, healthier or unhealthy, but if we’re using our emotions in healthy and respectful ways, they are all terrific. They’re all important. Two examples here to show you what I mean. There are people, even professionals, who call anger a negative emotion. Anger has messages. It’s telling us somebody that they might be disrespected. They might have been hurt, and they might have had their boundaries crossed.
In that case, anger is a good and healthy messenger. How we use our anger, if we hit someone or through something at them, that would not be healthy. The anger itself is not a negative emotion. In the same way, we can see that staying positive all the time when we’re not feeling positive or upbeat or joyful, that too, even though we would call positivity a good or healthy emotion, can be unhealthy. It can be toxic if we’re not being genuine. We want to pay attention to that. No emotion is good or bad. It’s how we use those emotions. That can be good, bad, healthy and unhealthy. Important point.
We’ll go through a few pieces so that we can look at the question and these actually, these bits help us look at the questions in a very in-depth way. The first is that toxic positivity is tied to perfectionism. Toxic positivity can show up as a pressure to be perfect, to be the perfect parent, to write the perfect book, to be the perfect cook, to be the perfect child, to be the perfect person at work or to be perfectly happy. When we look at that, what pressure that is, and you don’t want to get into that space where we let this pressure of perfectionism, but we don’t let it push us to be constantly perfectly positive.
That’s not human. It’s not realistic. It is downright destructive to our health and our well-being. It can lead to depression, chronic anxiety, and a host of other mental and physical health issues. Next, be aware of social media and its links to toxic positivity. Social media can certainly amplify toxic positivity. It can amplify it by promoting the ideal life, the ideal person, which makes people viewing these images feel constantly defective, chronically imperfect, lacking depressed.
This speaks to the question of the day. It can make us feel like we’re horrible human beings because even if, on one level, we know that the images are airbrushed and carefully curated, a glimpse of another person’s life, it still makes us feel. Images are powerful. We’re looking at this image and we’re saying, “I don’t have that life, I don’t have that body, I don’t have that money. I don’t have.” When we do that, it’s telling us what we don’t have rather than allowing us to focus on what we do have.
Another point is stressful situations can impact our push toward toxic positivity. We’re in a situation where we feel like we should be perfect. We’re at office parties or a big event such as a wedding or a first date, we often feel like we should be perfect and that we should be showing up absolutely without a flaw. The good news is you can take that pressure off yourself. You can show up as you are or a polished version of yourself, as pretty or handsome as you want to make yourself for that event, but realize the best gift you can give yourself and other people is showing up as the authentic you.You can take the pressure off yourself and show up as you are or as a polished version of yourself. Click To Tweet
Reducing Toxic Positivity in Your Life: Tip #1
Now we’re on to the eleven tips for reducing toxic positivity in your life. The first is this, and it’s an important one. Feed your mind with images and thoughts that are uplifting. I’m not talking about having to stay positive, it is simply nice to have a repository of positive images to go to, and these images and thoughts can be very simple things. They can be gratitude or blessings. I’m I feel blessed with this. I feel blessed that I have a roof over my head. I feel blessed that I have a way to get to work. I am grateful for my children, my friends and my partner. I’m grateful that I have good food and they can also be, as I said, images. You can take snapshots.
I love doing this in my mind, having snapshots of a beautiful hike, adventure, or time cuddling with my puppy. A walk with my partner, holding hands, and making them into snapshots in my head, is so helpful for creating authentic positivities. If I’m feeling a little bit blue, I have go-to images and thoughts, and I want a little boost of natural uplifting, not toxic positivity but a natural little boost. I can turn to my own images, my own little glass 3/4 full of gratitude and blessings. It’s important to know that you can have those to remind yourself that you have blessings in life. Authentic ones, not false ones.
Reducing Toxic Positivity in Your Life: Tip #2
Point two, avoid engaging with images or thoughts that trigger anxiety, stress or depression, or comparison. If you find yourself looking through a fashion magazine, watching a movie where everybody looks perfect, or going to a store that makes you feel, “It’s all too perfect in here,” simply keep away from it.
It’s important for us to be aware that we can use our boundaries in this way that we can say, “This doesn’t feel good. I’m not going to engage with those images or those thoughts that are coming up, the thoughts that say, “I am not good enough. I am less than. I am not that.” We want to be aware when those come up and realize I don’t have to engage with you. You come up, but I’m not entertaining you. I often say that when thoughts come up like that, it’s okay to put out a no welcome mat. It’s okay for that to come up and then say, “You’re not welcome here. Go ahead. Leave. nice boundary.” Door shut, and so that’s tip two.
Reducing Toxic Positivity in Your Life: Tip #3
Tip three, it’s important to steer clear of any social media that leaves you feeling imperfect, depressed, anxious, less than, unworthy, not beautiful, not handsome. Any of those, “I am not good enough.” Why? When we have the choice to engage or not engage in anything, such as social media, why engage in anything that makes you feel worse? I have so many clients who have gone on social media diets by their own choice. They come away saying, “Why didn’t I do that sooner?”
Reducing Toxic Positivity in Your Life: Tip #4
I feel so much better when I delete that or delete this or delete that profile or simply limit myself to 10 minutes a day and only go on pages that are feel good in nature. Why not? Life’s too short to engage in anything that makes you feel less than. Tip four, if you’re around someone who exudes toxic positivity, remember that this is a mask they’re wearing. It’s covering up something they’re often hurting inside and remind yourself that you don’t want to or need to compare yourself to these people and that they’re on their own journey.Life's too short to engage in anything that makes you feel less than okay. Click To Tweet
You can’t control their journey. Their journey is theirs and you can limit. If it makes you feel low and blue afterwards, limit your time with them, you can send them loads of love and blessings, but you can also limit your time around people, things, and experiences that make you feel like you’re less than, you’re not good enough or that your life is not good.
Reducing Toxic Positivity in Your Life: Tip #5
Point five, reduce and avoid contact with people who pull you down. They may seem like they’re kind and upbeat and cheerful, but they tend to pull you down with criticism and sarcasm, jabs. Realize that there is also this part often of people who may appear to be nice, but when you go away from the saying, “What was that about? I feel awful now.”
Reducing Toxic Positivity in Your Life: Tip #6
Tip six, don’t compare yourself, your life or your feelings to others. You don’t know what’s going on in other people’s lives, whether in their home life, work life, trauma history, or mental health history, you don’t know. Steer clear of comparing yourself to other people. In my first book, Joy from Fear, I talk about the voice of toxic comparison, and so I want to be careful to not to compare ourselves to other people. It’s a dead end and it often takes us down rabbit holes, so why do it?
Reducing Toxic Positivity in Your Life: Tip #7
Tip seven, notice and honor your feelings, all of them, whether you’re feeling irritable, blue, sad, imbalanced, anxious, or whatever is coming up for you, allow yourself to feel it. Allow yourself. Make space for it by noticing, processing, and honoring your various feelings and the emotions that are underneath them. You’re then able to be in a place where you accept them. You’re not resisting them. You’re accepting them and allowing them to be transitory, knowing they’re not going to stay forever.
Reducing Toxic Positivity in Your Life: Tip #9
We don’t want to hold on to any emotions and so let them move through you. There are times when journaling, talking, and getting support from others will actually help you notice your feelings, move through your feelings, accept your feelings and process your feelings. We don’t want to label any of our feelings. Bad or negative, they’re all good, especially when we use them to learn more about what’s going on in our world. Our emotions and feelings have so much to teach us. Embrace the truth that every feeling has a purpose, and we want to learn to honor the messages within the feelings, not just these so-called positive ones.
Feelings, such as anxiety, sadness, and melancholy let us know that something’s going on. They often let us know that we need to take an action, whether that action is to sleep, rest, exercise, meditate or reach out for support, and in some cases, the message that emotion is giving us is to just be. For example, if you’re feeling melancholy, it’s okay to just be. It’s okay to sit down somewhere outside or on your bed at a bus stop and be.
Let the melancholy be and if you feel like exploring why you’re feeling melancholy moving on inside of you, that’s okay too. Sometimes you don’t even need to think about it. You can be with it. This helps us not ignore or compartmentalize our feelings when we allow ourselves to acknowledge that our feelings have a purpose or emotions have a purpose.
Reducing Toxic Positivity in Your Life: Tip #8
Next tip, emote authentically and responsibly. Remember, it’s absolutely okay not to feel positive at times, give yourself permission to cry, to get upset, to let off steam in healthy ways. Remember, like being angry in toxic ways, where we’re throwing something at someone or unleashing a firestorm of horrible words, we don’t want to do that.
We also, at the other end, don’t want to be caught up in a vice of toxic positivity. We want to be able to allow ourselves to emote, to feel our emotions, to talk about our emotions when and if we’re ready, or there’s somebody we want to share them with in ways that are healthy. For example, if you’re feeling angry, instead of yelling at your partner, you would process your emotions.
You say to your partner, “I feel very angry at you right now because of this, and in the future, I would like you to do this so that I wouldn’t feel angry at you. It would help me and our relationship.” When we work in ways like that, know our emotions, state our emotions, and state our needs, then we’re using our emotions in healthy ways.
Reducing Toxic Positivity in Your Life: Tip #10
Tip ten, let feelings go when you’re done with them, instead of getting stuck with them, allow yourself to let them go. Allow yourself sometimes to imagine if it’s helpful that you’re sitting somewhere and you’re done with the emotion, maybe you’re feeling sad or irritable, and you tended to the underlying issue, and you’re ready to release it.
Imagine putting maybe that frustration or anger in a balloon and watching it float off. That doesn’t mean it won’t come back. It means it may come back. It may come back 1 time, 100 times or 1,000 times. Each time you feel done with it, after you process it, try to find the messages then you can let it go. Practices like that can be so helpful and so healing.
Reducing Toxic Positivity in Your Life: Tip #11
Tip 11, let go of perfectionism. No one has a perfect life. It’s an impossibility. You can strive to be authentic and to be the very best version of yourself day by day, one step at a time. This means that there may be times when you don’t perfectly manage your emotions, where your feelings may get the best of you. That, too, is normal, and all you can do in those situations is learn from the episode what didn’t feel right to you. If there was another person involved, apologize, learn the lesson and do it a little bit better than the next time around.
Going back to the question that was brought up, all of this works together to help you realize that the best chance you have of fighting toxic positivity is to make friends with all of your emotions to work through this eleven-step process whenever you can. Realize that all of your emotions are normal, healthy, and important. It’s how we use our emotions that can be healthier and unhealthy, positive or negative. For the person who asked the question, what can she do?The best chance you have of fighting toxic positivity is to make friends with all of your emotions and realize that all of your emotions are normal, healthy, and important. Click To Tweet
She can follow this eleven-step process as best as she can and realized that by using steps like this, by embracing all of the emotions, we become a role model. Not just for modeling for ourselves, but we’re also modeling for friends and family that it is okay, wise and good to know our emotions, stand in the truth of our emotions, and use our emotions in wise, responsible ways. In this way, we can let go of toxic positivity and enjoy the often topsy-turvy roller coaster of life. That allows us to sometimes feel a wide range of emotions, even in the course of one day.
- Joy from Fear
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