Published: 29th May 2021
E-Canteen Fundas: Feeling positive or a little too positive? Toxicity positivity harms more
Pro Tip: Toxic positivity harms more than it helps. Feeling your real feelings without always covering them up with positivity helps
I’ve had a strange experience today,’ said Rinku. ‘Krishna and I talked to his aunt about how we were feeling about the pandemic, hoping it would help. We ended up feeling worse.’
‘Why?’ asked Rahul. ‘Was she very negative?’
‘No,’ said Rinku. ‘In fact, she was too positive. Every time we tried to express our feelings, she’d butt in with ‘it’s going to be all right’, ‘you’ll be fine’, ‘don’t feel like that’, ‘be happy’ and so on. I felt I was doing something wrong by not feeling positive.’
‘Ah, you’ve been a victim of toxic positivity,’ smiled Rakesh.
‘Whoa, what’s that, bhaiyya?’ asked Rahul.
‘Toxic positivity is when people try to ignore or minimise real and difficult feelings with a false front of positivity,’ said Rakesh. ‘It makes you feel like something’s wrong with you.’
‘But isn’t positivity good, bhaiyya?’ asked Rahul.
‘Not if it makes you feel worse,’ laughed Rakesh. ‘These are difficult times and we all feel anxious, lonely and fearful, and want to share our vulnerable feelings and talk about them. It’s not right to dismiss these feelings and say ‘all is well’. Painful emotions have to be dealt with openly and honestly. Positivity is not bad — the problem is with our timing and the outcome we achieve.’
‘How does toxic positivity show up, bhaiyya?’ asked Rinku.
‘When someone expresses their vulnerable feelings,’ said Rakesh, ‘And people come back with — ‘You’ll be fine’, ‘it’s nothing’, ‘be grateful’, ‘be happy’, ‘you’ll get over it’ and so on — instead of making the person feel supported. They make them feel invalidated, ashamed or guilty for feeling what they feel.’
‘But the words sound kind,’ said Rinku. ‘I use them too.’
‘Toxic positivity isn’t about the words, it’s how we make the other person feel,’ said Rakesh. ‘In a different context and time, the same words have a completely different result.’
‘How should we deal with the negative feelings?’ asked Rahul.
‘There’s nothing negative or positive about our feelings or emotions,’ said Rakesh. ‘If we feel fearful or upset, we must process it for our well-being. Brushing them away will not solve the problem. It’s when we feel our emotions that we make room for other emotions.’
‘How should we deal with people who are feeling low, bhaiyya?’ asked Rinku.
‘Listen,’ said Rakesh. ‘Be empathetic, ask questions and ask how you can help. Validate their feelings and help them feel their feelings. By the end of it, help them feel better.’
‘Thanks, bhaiyya,’ said Rahul. ‘We’ll be wary of toxic positivity.’