I recently discussed “toxic positivity” based on a chart created by someone. The chart included “toxically positive” traits versus “healthy positive” traits. Before that conversation I never heard the term toxic positivity before. The person that mentioned it said that I was toxically positive, so I had to find out what it was because it sounds like a diss. Maybe I listen to too much hip-hop, but diss records are never uplifting for the person being dissed. There are several opinions on the matter and there are subtle differences across the board of what it is or rather, what the characteristics are. Upon researching, I found out definitively that being branded as a toxically positive person is a diss, although not on the level of Push T’s disdain for McDonald’s fish sandwiches. Google that if you must.
So What Is It?
According to Medical News Today, it’s an obsession with positive thinking. More important, toxic positivity ignores negative feelings which are not only natural, but also hard to avoid. In looking up some of the traits I had to laugh because they don’t fit who I am at all. Here are a few traits I found:
- Expressing guilt for being upset
- Ignoring someone’s feeling of grief
- Tossing out feel good stories instead of acknowledging painful events
- Hiding pain (emotional not physical)
- Pretending problems don’t exist
- Offering only the silver lining of bad situations/only looking at the bright side
To be fair, I have never encountered a person that embodied all these traits on a consistent basis, nor the opposites of these traits, especially men. As a male born in the 80’s the best advice for being a man for the bulk of my life was to “man up”. Imagine that. That said, sure I’ve hidden pain and ignored my own problems at some point. However, I never did so in an effort to remain positive. I did so because I knew the people I was around at those times didn’t genuinely care or have useful information to help with my issues. Not to say I put on a happy go lucky face, I simply continued doing the things I enjoyed and dealt with the issues quietly. That may sound odd to people now because damn near all matters private, public and matters that should be private are displayed on social media. There’s almost a fetish to being in someone’s business, as well as sharing it.
So, How Am I Toxic?
Outside of my past dealings with women at various points in my life, I don’t believe that I’m toxic at all. However, I understand the nuance in my philosophies and why it may be confusing to someone that doesn’t understand the nuance. Without a super deep dive into my psyche, I believe a better term for “toxic positivity” would be “emotionally unintelligent”. In all the traits I’ve seen, there is an element of denial that drives someone’s response to whatever the external factor is. That said, there is a distinct line between resilience and denial when it comes to dealing with adverse situations. To be toxic, you absolutely need the denial aspect.
So, What Distinguishes Them?
For people that are resilient, in tough times they draw on past experiences as a factor to overcome the obstacles they face. There is a clear acknowledgment that something bad is happening or has happened, the person accepts this and then chooses to move in a way that doesn’t turn into toxic negativity or depression. There is a natural grieving period within us all, but there isn’t a standardized amount of time for all people, the individual will know when they’re ready to move on from an adverse event. When dealing with others, expressing an understanding for their grieving, while also not becoming an echo chamber for what pains them is a sign of a resiliency. I personally don’t think it’s mentally or emotionally healthy to constantly seek blind agreement with issues.
For a person going through it, a person that is genuinely resilient may seem to be a fraud. I have experienced quite a few moments of heartache, loss, lack of self-esteem and failure in my life. I grieved them as necessary, learned my lessons, and put what I needed in the toolbox. My perspective is that many of these difficult times prepared me for where I am now. Real time, when I was going through it, I thought, “man it’ll be great when this is over”, now I look back and say, “I’m glad I experienced that when I did”. Those stories of failure and comeuppance are not to deny or ignore the pain the person is feeling, they are meant to inspire or remind that the pain is temporary.
When I was on my initial journey to find myself and gain a greater understanding of spirituality, I began learning about Buddhism. The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism as summarized by me are:
- Suffering and or pain are part of existing
- Suffering has an origin point
- Suffering can/will end
- The path of ending the suffering is available
Everything is up for interpretation and these ideas can be modified based on the specific issue one is dealing with. For me, I understand that pain is part of life. The underlying truth to that though is, pain is not permanent. To be truly fair, joy is not permanent either. There are many things that cause pain, so regarding whatever is causing me pain at any given time, I typically have the presence of mind to recognize the origin. Understanding what caused it gives me comfort and confidence that at some point it will end. From there, it’s figuring out what works best for my problem, then acting on that.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.Tupac Shakur
What I Think
Technically all of this is what I think, but play along.
I think it’s difficult to experience or give out “toxic positivity” when you are genuinely aware of these 4 truths or are at least your truth. The flip side of that is, what is and is not toxic is not an objective fact. How one receives information is still interpreted by their life experiences which brought them to where they currently are. If they are incapable of believing a person can be resilient in certain instances, that person will think you are a phony regardless of how you explain things to them. For resilient people, they’ll take those life lessons you share and use what is applicable. It’s like an allergen in a sense.
Living in your truth doesn’t require validation from others. It does, however, require understanding of oneself. I wake up every day and look in the mirror at my good and bad choices. In hindsight, I can honestly say that none of them were objectively good or bad, only perceived as such in that moment and redefined in this moment. Life is filled with lessons for the people aware and unaware of this fact. All that to say, if surviving and drawing inspiration from previous storms makes someone toxically positive in your eyes, you may simply be allergic to their way of dealing with life.
What an interesting post! I’ve never heard of toxic positivity. I am the eternal optimist, so I’m sure someone could easily accuse me of being toxically positive. I don’t care. No one needs to know when I’m a blubbering, crying mess (which I generally view as cathartic). The Four Noble Truths are spot on. Thanks for sharing your insights on this.
Thank you for reading. This was an interesting post to write honestly. The term caught me off guard when I was called toxically positive. Hopefully it’ll help others labeled toxically positive 🙂