Toxic Positivity: How to Sit in the Rain
What is toxic positivity? First, let’s dissect this confusing topic. Have you ever come to someone with a really difficult feeling or story and their first response was, “But you have it so great!” or “Just look at the bright side!” You were experiencing toxic positivity, and I’m sure it didn’t feel super good.
Toxic positivity is the belief that if we don’t focus on negative emotions and only on the good things in life, then those negative feelings will just go away. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. When we don’t deal with our emotions, they can build up until they’re out of control. When you come to a friend wanting to process and release feelings, and you get this type of response, it can be very difficult to know what to do next. And what if you are that friend? Belittling someone’s feelings and experiences, although we don’t mean to, by looking for the silver lining or explaining how much worse they could have it can be very harmful. It’s often hard to get up the courage to speak our truth, and when it’s so easily squashed it can be incredibly invalidating and feel downright icky. Invalidation is when you make someone’s feelings or experience seem unimportant because you don’t think it’s big enough or deserving of the reaction they have. So how can we avoid this? How are we supposed to help the people in our lives going through stormy times?
When somebody comes to you with a storm cloud, you don’t need to jump to the sunshine. Instead, sit in the rain with them. Thank them for sharing how they’re feeling. Acknowledge their emotions and validate them.
This can look like:
Remember, just because a life experience is easy for you to process doesn’t mean that translates to everyone else. For example, losing a loved one, a parent’s divorce, dealing with mental illness, any kind of trauma, or even just big changes can have varying effects on different people. Everyone is different and everyone’s feelings are valid. You don’t need to tell them about how quickly you jumped back from a similar situation. Listen to them to understand what they have to say – not to speak up first. When you are ready to say something, ask them what they need in that moment.
Remember to take care of yourself as well and check in with your emotions after helping someone through a difficult situation. You can’t give from an empty cup. If there’s anything you should learn from this, it’s that no emotion is bad, and every feeling deserves to be felt.
Although we should be grateful for what we have and finding joy in our lives can help us through difficult times, it’s so important not to invalidate the people around us or ourselves. The first person’s experience is just as real as the next. Please be kind to yourself as you process your emotions and keep this in mind the next time someone comes to you.
This blog was written by Ali, a volunteer for Healthy Young NV.