Are you familiar with the idea of toxic positivity?
Sounds conflicting, doesn’t it? It is in fact a little bit hard to wrap your head around at first. But, it’s important to be aware of and it’s prevalent in motherhood, so it hit our radar.
When I first heard the term, I looked it up. It’s not in the dictionary.
According to clinical psychologist Dr. Jaime Zuckerman, “Toxic positivity is a societal assumption that a person, despite their emotional pain or gravity of their situation, should only strive to have a positive outlook.”
Your theory intrigues me, doctor, but I have to tell you, if I’m being honest, I’ve been living under that societal assumption for the better part of 44 years. Are you saying I’m doing it wrong?
Isn’t it good to be positive?
Can it really be bad; toxic even? And if I’m doing it wrong, what does doing it right look like? I have so many questions!
I recently became aware of this phenomenon when I was the victim of it. It’s a long story and the details aren’t important but as I was venting to a friend she immediately identified what I experienced as “toxic positivity.”
What in the world?
I had no idea positivity could be harmful or toxic for that matter. What I did know was that I didn’t like it. It left me feeling frustrated, shamed, and patronized.
When I cooled down from all those feels, I decided to learn more about it.
I realized some hard truths.
1) Toxic Positivity can be self-inflicted and I’ve been doing it to myself for years. Ouch!
In striving to have a positive outlook at all costs, I’ve been denying myself the negative vibes necessary to acknowledge important feelings and effectively get past them.
Don’t all moms do this?
“I’m fine” [sweeps her problems under the rug]. And it’s not like we’re actively penciling in time to address it later. Moms have been taking this approach since cave-moms were sweeping their problems under animal pelts.
2) On top of that – here comes the icky part – I’ve realized I totally do this to other people too. Ugh! I feel like I’ve had spinach in my teeth for 44 years and no one said anything! Worse than that though, is the remorse. I’ve got a mess to clean-up.
Luckily, the experts assure us that something can be done.
In this week’s Smart Reads, you’ll find several helpful articles to navigate toxic positivity.
One that was especially helpful for me was The Difference Between Growth Mindset and Toxic Positivity by Lizzie Gardiner. Here’s a quote:
“Dr. Konstantin Lukin, an acclaimed psychologist who has spent his career studying these issues, argues that by ignoring negative emotions, be it ours or others’, we make them bigger… All of our emotions — positive and negative — work to help us thrive and live life in a healthy way. Ignoring negativity for prolonged periods of time can lead to serious problems and not just in the mental health department. It often leads to a breakdown of one’s relationships, ability to perform tasks, learn new things, and ask for help when it’s needed — which is opposite of a growth mindset.”
Wow. That hit me like a ton of bricks.
This is so prevalent right now.
In the midst of a pandemic, we are continually being bombarded by new information – confusing information – and unknowns that lead to fear and uncertainty in ourselves and those around us.
I admit, I’ve coping with some of those feelings by pushing them down while simultaneously trying to convince myself that everything will be okay. But frankly, I ran out of places to hide those feelings a long time ago. As a result, I’m swimming in the sea of bigger problems and only now recognizing how I got here.
The pandemic is an example of how I’ve experienced toxic positivity. Unfortunately, I’m not alone, as Diana Spalding explains in an article she penned for Mother.ly.
Toxic positivity abounds in motherhood.
“My friend was recently mom-shamed on social media. She was venting about the challenges of parenting during a pandemic, and another mom —a stranger— messaged her to tell her to stop complaining. You should feel lucky for all that is good in your life and stop focusing on the bad. When you complain, you bring everyone around you down. Motherhood is beautiful, enjoy it more.”
She continues, “The following statements are all truths:
Optimism is beautiful.
Finding the silver lining is a gift.
A positive outlook will take you far.
And sometimes life is really hard.
In order to live a full, human life, that last part has to be acknowledged, and even welcomed, into the conversation. To ignore or shame it is to practice toxic positivity—and it’s a huge problem right now.”
Read the full article, titled Toxic positivity doesn’t fix how much moms are burnt out—it only makes things worse, in this week’s Smart Reads.
Moms, it’s time to stop sweeping our feelings under the rug.
We are all in this together; this beautiful, messy thing called motherhood. When we’re struggling, we need to lean on each other and when we’re the ones doing the helping, we need to choose our words carefully.
Take the time to learn more about toxic positivity so that you can avoid inflicting it on yourself and others.
Finally, because I think it’s worth repeating and serves as a healthy reminder, optimism is beautiful. Furthermore, positivity is a good and powerful tool. Use it wisely!
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