The ongoing pandemic: Do you have Toxic Positivity?
Updated: Jul 5, 2021
When someone comes to you with a problem, is your go-to phrase to "Stay Positive"? Take the quiz.
These are harsh times for us all and we've all suffered in different ways.
Many of us feel like we've fallen into a state of existence marked by a lack of progression. Time seems to have frozen for a year now, and we are all expected to be okay with it.
With the light at the end of tunnel seemingly speeding away from us, it feels like we're stuck in a dimly-lighted limbo and the future feels uncertain.
For many of us, we haven't quite fallen into a state where we think we might have mental health issues, like depression for example. However, it doesn't seem like we're really living our best lives right now either. The joy and hope we used to feel all feels a bit muted.
Psychology actually has a term of this state we've fallen to, it's called Languishing. As described above, it's a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It might even feel like you are an empty shell of your previous self, floating through your days trying to keep it all in.
Credits: Well-being Institute, University of Cambridge, 2011.
There's a high chance that the percentage of our population experiencing a Languishing state of Mental Wellbeing has grown over this and last year.
I myself have fallen into such thought patterns at times, being absolutely tired of working from home or having to don a mask every time I have to leave the house.
Just a mere five days in the wake of the new restrictions at the time of writing (Phase 2 HA), I find myself missing the simple pleasures of having a meal outside. Eating take-out food in the comfort of my home is nice, but it sure would be nice to also sit at a café or even simply have a fresh hot plate of Char Kway Teow at the nearby market.
Now, my wife is a Pharmacist at a Polyclinic. She still has to go to work each day as a Frontliner. She's one of the many pillars that keep the backbone of our health industry up and running. Many days, she comes home tremendously exhausted, hoping that this crisis would be over.
Given this and my love for her, I catch myself each time I want to complain about the pains of working from home, especially since she has to be out and about in a potentially contagious environment each day.
Should I be allowed to share my thoughts and feelings with her? Or should I keep them to myself, knowing that she, in relative terms, is much worse off?
What do you think?
Toxic Positivity is Real, especially in this ongoing pandemic.
Toxic Positivity is the assumption, either made by your very own self or others, that despite a person's emotional pain and circumstantial difficulties, they should keep maintaining a positive mindset. All the darn time.
It can take many forms, be it a family member who criticises you for complaining about something, telling you that you have it all good; it can also be the friend who, whenever you share your problems, tells you about how other people have it worse.
In our current climate, this sounds a lot like:
"Why are you complaining about WFH? Others still have to go to office leh!"
"You've been feeling down? Just think positive bro".
"Tired of working? Hey you should feel lucky you have a job you know?"
"You lost your job? Stay positive, at least you don't have COVID".
To clarify, there's nothing inherently wrong with positivity. In fact, one of the key ingredients of Flourishing, the good side of the mental wellbeing spectrum, is Optimism. Positivity can be a force for good and keep you motivated for the future.
However, positivity becomes harmful anytime it invalidates you or another person's real feelings. Even when these feelings are negative ones, whether it's anxiety, fear, sadness, or unhappiness, there is a reason why you are feeling them.
And you are allowed to feel what you feel.
The dangers of Toxic Positivity.
With toxic positivity, negative emotions are seen as bad things.
In it's place, positivity and statements of "think happy little thoughts" are forced on another person, and as a consequence, their real and very human emotions are denied, minimised, or invalidated.
What this is doing is that you are forcing the person to push away his or her negative feelings and thoughts, to somehow lock these away and throw away the key. In its place, they are expected to somehow feel reinvigorated again, that what they've been thinking and feeling isn't valid.
Even though they continue to feel lousy, unhappy or sad, they hesitate about sharing their feelings. Why? Because you've now put into their minds the idea that such thoughts are selfish, weak, or a sign of a defective human who is unable to see the positive.
They continue to struggle to control these thoughts and feelings, chatising themselves whenever such thoughts arise. This leads them down the road to self-shame and self-judgement, a very maladaptive state of mind. This mindset forms a barrier against more useful cognitions, like being self-compassionate and kind to oneself.
In psychological therapy, particularly in the context of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy which I write about on this blog, it is the avoidance and suppression of negative thoughts and emotions that actually paves the way to more intense psychological stress.
Well, I hope you understand it better now that this is what you're doing to the person when you engage in toxic positivity.
Have you got Toxic Positivity?
I thought I'd end this with a quick quiz that I came up with to test yourself for signs of toxic positivity. For the scholars sitting in your ivory towers, yes I totally get that they are not statistically valid or reliable. Who cares. This is qualitive and fun to do. It also provides some more context, and can create more awareness on this subject. So, let's go.
Choose an answer for each of the five questions below.
1) Your friend has been feeling down and came to you for help. You are more likely to say:
A) "Well, it is what it is. Could be worse."
B) "Would you like some ice-cream?"
C) "I'm here for you. Tell me all about it."
2) What were your reflections on 2020, the year of the pandemic?
A) "It was tough, but at least I'm not in Healthcare or live a worse-off country"
B) "Still can't believe Prince Harry and Meghan Markle quit the royal family!"
C) "It's really been an up and down ride. I'm thankful for all the support I have."
3) Which is your favourite mantra of the below?
A) "Positive vibes only."
C) "I am learning to accept myself, just as I am."
4) One of your friends had a depressive episode because of the pandemic. You're more likely to say:
A) "What an attention-seeker. He or she has a pretty good life what."
B) "Hmmm, maybe I should go bring them to Universal Studios."
C) "Hey, let me know what's going on. I'm here for you."
5) Your friend lost his or her job yesterday because of the pandemic. You are more likely to tell him or her:
A) "This too shall pass. Keep focusing on the silver lining."
B) "Yay, now we can open our food truck startup!"
C) "So sorry to hear that. How are you feeling?"
The results are in. Which are you?
Mostly A's) You have a severe case of Toxic Positivity. Stop pushing your ideals on others and shutting them down. You really are only making it worse.
Mostly B's) I'm not sure if you are a human being or some rainbow-coloured leprechaun. You are not of this world.
Mostly C's) Well done. You're supporting in a really, really good way. Keep on lending a listening ear and point the person to help if they really need it.
In closing, I do share my difficulties in adjusting to the new restrictions with my wife, while also checking in on her too. Every person has his or her share of problems, it's never a comparison of who has it worse.
So if you do feel like you're really having a tough time through this pandemic, don't struggle alone. Seek out someone to talk to.
You can also check out this article 7 tips on being kind to yourself when you’re really, really suffering.
Check out the Therapy section of my blog too. Do speak to a mental health professional who can really help you out. Email me if you have any queries, and I'll be happy to direct you to someone who can help. Thanks for reading Kaya Toast for the Soul.
Take care, Hern Ping.