A few days ago, an influencer whose content really resonates with me shared a screenshot of a DM she received. The message was from a ‘well-meaning’ follower who decided it was okay for her to give this influencer some unsolicited advice. She went on to tell her how she really “liked her content and her aesthetic” but how the creator has been “too negative of late”. She even went as far as to say that if the influencer continued to post “negativity” she would unfollow her.
And what was this ‘negative’ content that the influencer posted? While her account mainly posts aesthetic fashion and home decor shots, she has never shied away from speaking up about issues that matter to her and being real. She likes to use her social media influence to talk about topics that otherwise be brushed under the rug–which might be especially surprising for a fashion account.
That particular day, she posted about a bad day at work, and shared her personal experience about the sexism she faces despite being extremely competent and qualified at her job. But what baffled me most about that DM was the entitlement of the follower–she was almost threatening her to ‘be more positive’ or else she would have to face the consequences of a diminishing social media following. The major problem here, though, is the discomfort we all feel when social media suddenly gets ‘real’. We get it, it’s fun to scroll through pictures of flat lays and fashion shoots, but the minute someone stops posting inspiring quotes against exotic backgrounds, the minute a little bit of humanness peeks through the veil of performative positivity, we feel robbed of the fantasy we turned to social media for in the first place.
The problem isn’t the ‘inspirational’ quote posters–the problem is the propagation of the idea that happiness is a constant state of mind, and that if you stop the facade of being ‘positive’, then you’re labelled as someone who is ‘negative’ ‘whiny’ ‘complaining’ or ‘depressed’. This, my friends, is toxic positivity.
How many times have you heard phrases like “keep your chin up!” “everything will work out” “look at the bright side” or “don’t be sad, you have so much to be grateful for”? Perhaps, every time you went through a tough time like being laid off or a bad breakup?
According to experts, toxic positivity is the idea that we should focus only on positive emotions and the positive aspects of life. “It’s the belief that if we ignore difficult emotions and the parts of our life that aren’t working as well, we’ll be much happier,” Heather Monroe, a clinical social worker, told a digital publication.
And while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with trying to be positive, the problem with toxic positivity is that it over-simplifies human emotions. It tells us difficult emotions are ‘bad’, when in reality, the human brain is complex and is meant to process all kinds of emotions–not just positive ones. The human experience is NOT supposed to be all about rainbows and butterflies–it’s a mixed bag of a spectrum of emotions, and that’s what makes us the complex beings that we are.
It is not only okay but also important to acknowledge and accept every emotion you are feeling–the good and the bad alike. Because pretending to not feel sad never helps you to stop being sad. Accepting your emotions helps you process them faster, and makes you a healthy and well-rounded individual.
If you’ve given someone a dose of toxic positivity when they’ve come to you with their problems, don’t beat yourself up. Every human being is flawed, but it is important to recognise and improve your habits. We understand you might be coming from a place of concern when you tell someone to “look at the bright side”, but sometimes, it’s okay to look at the gloomy side too. After all, our hardships make us stronger and appreciate the good times even more.
To unlearn the behaviour of toxic positivity, the first thing you should do is to simply listen when someone comes to you with a problem. It’s natural to want to give a loved one advice, but often what most people need is just for someone to hear them out, because it makes them feel less alone.
After you hear them out, tell them that their feelings are valid. Empathise with them and tell them it’s okay to feel down and out sometimes, and that there’s nothing wrong with taking the time to marinate in your emotions. If you feel they are doing worse than usual, encourage them to reach out to a mental health expert for some professional advice.
It’s also important to note that the same advice applies to you. We are often our own harshest critics, so make it a point to always be gentle with yourself. If possible, incorporate some self-reflection activities into your daily schedule like meditation and journaling.
And remember, it’s okay to not be okay.
Featured Image: Pexels