Social media is spreading 'toxic positivity' and we seriously need to avoid it for the sake of our mental health

I’ve lost track how many times people remind me of the power of positivity.

18 Apr 2019

We’re often faced with token slogans such as ‘good vibes only’ and ‘think happy thoughts’, spanning across both social media and real-life interactions. Being told to stay positive in a difficult situation has become something I’ve heard more often than I apply mascara. What if that forced mindset is not only really unhelpful, but also potentially damaging to our mental health too? I’m talking about toxic positivity, where as defined by urbandictionary.com, this means enforcing the “if you just stay positive, you will overcome any obstacle” mantra to such a degree that natural emotional responses are invalidated and so is the person experiencing those feelings.

Having had endometriosis since my teenage years, I’m regularly confronted with the above. Racking up countless hospital trips and health complications, I’ve lost track how many times people remind me of the power of positivity. Suggesting that anybody needs to remain positive in the face of adversity is quite frankly, a little bit patronising.

Downright damaging at times, being denied the right to call something out as completely hideous can also compound feelings of shame attached to a situation. Removing that chance to address how you may be really feeling, toxic positivity glosses over the reality, suppressing true feelings. And because of it, I’ve often felt the pressure to whack on a smile for fear of becoming a pain-bore or being accused of supposedly making things worse due to negative thoughts.

"Life’s too short to let this bring you down’ is another one, yet I’m asking why letting yourself feel it in order to heal or deal with a situation is such a bad thing. When once describing a post-birth stitch trauma over text to a friend on my way back from A&E, I was told to look on the bright side and be grateful for all that I had. What I should’ve replied was, “I get that I’m extremely fortunate to have a beautiful new baby, I really do. But my fouff is bloody agony”.

The thing is, it’s completely natural to feel negatively about something. However, that doesn’t mean you are a negative person. Addressing ways to cope emotionally while facing ongoing women’s health stuff, I’ve only recently learnt how crucial it is that we label something as tough in order to address an experience. And surely the best pals are those who tell you they get it, whatever it is, before letting you offload. That scenario is so much more therapeutic than being inadvertently told to make like a pair of curtains and pull yourself together.

Coming across @thisthingtheycallrecovery on Instagram reiterated to me how important it is we let ourselves accept an issue as tough, and that this act in itself provides both comfort and relief. Insightful quotes such as, “There’s light at the end of the tunnel. That doesn’t really change the fact it stinks in here if I’m honest”, show that practically speaking, toxic positivity is completely useless. Other brilliant snippets include “You can do anything you put your mind to. Actually no that isn’t how this works”.

During my own experiences, an overriding fear of coming across as negative has meant I’ve lacked clarity about the difference between toxic and healthy positivity. It’s crucial to acknowledge a rough day or traumatic event, so that you can reach acceptance and process the issue you’re facing.

With a stoic awareness my health battles are ongoing, I’ve learnt to accept this and can also now articulate during challenging days if I do feel sadness, frustration and/or anger. I will be a tough ‘you got this’ Beyonce-type meme at times, but only on my own terms.