Positivity or Toxic Positivity?

I am a friend who feels deeply and cares tremendously about those close to me. When a friend is hurting, I want to help them heal. When a friend is confused, I want to help them find clarity. When a friend is happy, I want to share in their joy. I am right beside my friends as much as I can be.

Until it is too much. Recently I found myself giving and giving and giving to a friend and hit a point where I realized I had to step back. I supported this friend through a tumultuous and stressful year. I encouraged every step of the way. But I came to a point that I gave so much and nothing was changing. This friend was still as negative about everything she had been through and was showing no signs of coming up for air to find new ways to move on. The same complaints over and over. Random pushback on some things but not others. It has been stressful for me. I had to set a new boundary for what I am actually responsible for.

Was I being positive or toxically positive in this situation? 

Positivity is defined as the practice of being or tendency to be positive or optimistic in attitude. Toxic positivity is an obsession with positive thinking. It is the belief that people should put a positive spin on all experiences, even those that are profoundly tragic.

So, was I being positive or toxically positive?

I was being supportive and positive. This example is just one that I have been analyzing since I heard the reference to toxic positivity in late 2020.

I realized that there were most definitely times since 2014 that I had taken a toxically positive view on many, many things. When I joined Beachbody as a coach, the team I was on was so focused on making anything and everything have a positive outlook so that no negativity existed in each person’s life. They took being supportive and positive to a new level and I learned this behavior. There were so many times that I supported toxic positivity. Once I distanced myself from Beachbody and some of these people, I started seeing what I had done. I was not allowing any bit of negativity in my life, so I thought.

I was in this loop of turning everything that was negative into something positive and berating myself when I was negative all through my infertility journey. I had times when my positivity was warranted and was helpful, but I had a lot of times where my positivity was because I had taught myself to prevent anything negative from being negative. I was a fucking mess!!

I still struggle today. It’s funny, it was so easy to learn toxic positivity, but it is so damn difficult to unlearn it. I am almost constantly questioning whether I am being toxic or whether this negative thing should be allowed to stay negative.

The example that I gave at the beginning of this post was definitely another situation where I had to take stock of my reactions. The longer I distance myself from the everyday communication that usually went back to the tumultuous situations my friend was in, the more I realize that I was simply being supportive but that I hit my capacity on negativity without action.

Negativity with action is not the same thing as toxic positivity. For most negative situations, there is some kind of action that is needed to change the situation or the way we think about the future after the situation. If we don’t change the situation or the way we consider the future, then we are staying stuck. 

Negativity with action is getting laid off from a job and looking for another job with the intent of starting a new job.

Negativity without action is getting laid off from a job and not looking for another job.

Positivity is realizing that the situation sucks but that you will get through it.

Toxic positivity would be saying that you had to get laid off so another person could get their chance at the career you were in. This is a positive spin on an experience that is actually negative. Trust me, getting laid off sucks, I’ve been there five times.

As you go about your days, are you being positive or are you obsessing with being positive? I am learning how to stop the learned obsession with positivity. There are days where I am good and days where I overdo myself. I wish it was easy to unlearn toxic positivity, but it isn’t. If you are on this journey with me, let me know. How did you come to hop on that bandwagon?

Being positive is a great quality, just make sure that you aren’t obsessing with being positive in a detrimental way.

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