Positivity is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as the practice of being or tendency to be positive or optimistic in attitude. Essentially, positivity is trying to find the good in the bad. However, being a positive person, does not mean you have to feel positive every second of every day.
“Just Think Positive”
Lately, I have seen a trend of “just be positive” content and merchandise. It seems like our society is force feeding us positive energy and positive vibes as a healing power. In my opinion, it feels invalidating. Nothing irritates me more than someone telling me to “just think positive” when I am opening up about my mental health struggles. Wow if only I knew thinking positive would heal me?! Honestly, do people think none of us living with mental health conditions have tried to think positive?
Positive thoughts do not conquer the root of the problem. Positive thoughts do not make the intrusive thoughts disappear forever. Positive thoughts do not cancel out the feeling of hopelessness. Positive thoughts do not help you to feel when you feel nothing. Positive thoughts do not remove the obsessions or the compulsions. Positive thoughts do not force your mind to focus. Positive thoughts do not solve all of your problems.
Today, I feel like the world expects us to heal ourselves by thinking positive thoughts. As someone living with a mental health condition (bipolar disorder), I cannot positive think my manic or depressive episodes away. Positive thoughts do not replace my mood stabilizer medication. Positive thoughts are not the answer to “ending” mental illness, pain, or grief.
When does positivity become toxic?
Toxic positivity, in my opinion, is this idea that we have to feel positive or optimistic all the time. Toxic positivity is this idea that we can solve our problems by thinking positive. We live in a world where “positive vibes only” is perceived as realistic. Life is unpredictable and life can be so challenging. Life is full of obstacles, and trauma, pain and grief occur. The beautiful part of life is that you get the good with the bad. You get to experience a range of emotions, both ones that are perceived as positive and negative. Additionally, You know what feeling happy is because you have felt sad. You know what feeling excited is because you have felt angry. You do not get one without the other.
The whole concept of “positive vibes only” takes away from the idea that bad things happen. There is an obsession on finding the positive in every single situation, even in trauma and grief. This can feel extremely invalidating, specifically to people who are struggling.
Just because you experience a “negative” situation does not mean you are a negative person.
Let us be clear, you can be a positive person, and still feel defeated. You can be a positive person and still have bad days. Furthermore, you can be a positive person and still feel frustrated or angry with the way situations unravel. You can be a positive person and struggle.
In my opinion, positivity is about acknowledging the negatives, the pain, the trauma, and the bad, and allowing yourself space and time to heal from it. Then, taking that pain and turning it into a purpose, whether that becomes a passion project, a piece of motivation, a lesson, or a reminder. From pain to purpose, that is where I believe true positivity lies.
You do not have to be or feel positive every day. Negatives happen. Bad days happen. Trauma happens. Grief happens. But, what you do after you feel, after you struggle, after you heal, that determines who you are.
My whole life has been about changing negatives into positives.