Shadow of false optimism in toxic positivity

Ipshita Maliat Rahman | Thursday, 14 October 2021

"When I was growing up, I heard a lot about how being negative towards yourself could damage your self-esteem. So I was overly conscious of not being negative in anysituation. I started justifying my scarily falling grades with no valid reason. Somewhere along the way, I started being in denial of the idea that there could be problems in my techniques," shared Samia Syeda.
Samia Syeda (pseudonym) is a second-year BBA student at IBA, Dhaka University. Since her teenage years, she lost many friends who cornered her and made fun of her. She convinced herself that these were inevitable parts of life, not worth being sad about. As an adult now, she reflects back and realises that suppressing those emotions had led her to develop long term issues. Can she term those emotions as toxic positivity?
What is toxic positivity: Toxic positivity refers to a tendency of denying the negative aspects of a situation and focusing solely on the positive parts. It drives us away from addressing the source of our struggles and feeds ourselves lies about how we feel.
It is important to remember that positivity in its true essence is not harmful. Sometimes, people who are optimistic in nature are condemned for trying to see the best out of the situation. The difference between toxic and true positivity is that true positivity lies in acknowledging and accepting the negative aspects of a situation while adopting a positive attitude towards occurring events.
In contrast, when anything less than complete gratitude is not accepted, it is toxic positivity. When you're not acknowledging the existing challenges of a situation, you are being toxic by forcing happiness. While the topic of toxic positivity may sound like a fancy term coined by the new generation, the effects are always present.
Toxic positivity is ruining your life: Toxic positivity increases unnecessary suffering by prolonging a problem and hindering us from finding the cause. Suppressing emotions may help one avoid confronting the painful emotions immediately, but it leads to several long term problems including risks of severe outbursts to dissociation from oneself.
How we handle this shadow of false optimism also plays a role in validating or negating others feelings. Feeding a person a false sense of gratitude or happiness makes them feel like a burden to others and consequently, isolating themselves.
Qazi Naqib Monzur, a first-year student of English Language and Literature from Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST), shared his view with the author. He has reasons to believe that toxic positivity is not natural.
"It gets overbearing way too fast and more often than not, unhelpful. For someone who tries to keep things real when it comes to my own life, seeing the overtly positive reaction turns me off of people for good at times"
People inflict toxic positivity on themselves, as well as on others around them. One of the most suitable examples of this right now is the outlook towards Covid-19. Many tend to think that if one isn't coming out of this pandemic with a skill, they are just being lazy.
This attitude is rude and ignorant at the same time. It is only humane to be worried about the obvious calamities of Covid-19, the crisis of health, stable job, financial responsibilities. Even if one doesn't have to face any of these, just the thought of losing so much time from life, missing out on experiences and opportunities to make life bearable is enough to cripple one with the anxious nights.
Domestic violence is another common space where society has been inflicting toxic positivity for ages. Justifying a victim of domestic violence not only stigmatises the victims from sharing their pain, it normalises these acts in our society.
What can we do: Why do people sometimes resort to toxic positivity? More often than not, we are coming from a place of love, or blissful ignorance, or both. Sometimes we just don't have the right words to say to the person struggling with negative emotions. It is just that these practices have been part of our culture for a long time, and to uproot these, we have to understand where these come from.
Empathy and language are the most crucial, yet simple solutions. One of the most significant factors which draw the line between positivity and toxic positivity is the language that we use to communicate-- both with ourselves and with others who are suffering. Try not to invalidate the gravity of the situation. If you don't understand a situation, do not worsen it.
Pallab Rahman (pseudonym), a second-year student of Business Administration at the University of Dhaka recently lost his father. In a conversation with the writer, he shared how his surroundings are trying to suppress his emotions in the name of positivity.
"Instead of letting me express my feelings, they keep insisting that I should stay positive and focus on the good memories and that the pain makes everyone stronger. It's like people don't understand the gravity of the situation and want to apply one-size-fits-all approach."
To solve a challenging situation, one needs to call a spade a spade, or in this case of Pallab, acknowledge the existence of negative feelings. And that is where many people lose their way from being optimists to the shadow of toxic positivity.
The point is, one does not need to invalidate the feelings or situation of someone to think positively. Forced positivity helps no one, especially not anybody who considers you trustworthy enough to share feelings with. Like the famous fictional character, Bojack Horseman from an American TV show said,"Don't feel bad about feeling bad."

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