When positivity becomes toxic and fails humanity

When positivity becomes toxic and fails humanity

Each decade or so the world becomes obsessed with a few things that end up becoming trends.

Over the last decade, we’ve become obsessed with wellness, positivity and lately, with mental health. This has come with benefits, such as raising awareness of mental health and battling stigma.

At the very same time though, the idea of positivity has been abused and misinterpreted in ways that has awakened feelings of shame and inadequacy in many of us.

In addition to all the other boxes we’ve been asked to tick as human beings, now we also need to tick the box of positivity. This box is too tight and suffocating to make space for the whole spectrum of human experience.

When I became part of the wellness industry a few years ago, this didn’t feel right to me. Initially, I thought I was wrong and was trying to fit in the box too. As I was failing every day, I started feeling shame.

Once again, I wasn’t enough. Surprise, surprise. I was back to square one.

This until I realised that I was refusing to pay attention to my inner compass. I wasn’t wrong. The system was wrong and once again it was taking advantage of our vulnerabilities.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being ‘positive’.

I believe I have, overall, a positive outlook on life. But being positive doesn’t mean we are and must always remain positive, or when we can’t be positive, we must fake it.

Positivity is beneficial when it’s genuine and takes into account the full human experience and nature.

Healthy positivity honours everyone’s personal journey and doesn’t make us feel that we owe any explanations to anyone, contrary to the toxic positivity that demands from us to smile so that we don’t make the world feeling uncomfortable for its failings.

My other problem with toxic positivity is that we have also often used it as an excuse to avoid our collective responsibility to help others who don’t enjoy the same privileges as us. We’re implying ‘it’s their problem, their thinking, they should deal with it.’ We don’t acknowledge that our successes and achievements are, to a certain extend, a result of us being born in specific parts of the world, receiving a standard level of education and having food on our table from day one.

This is the type of positivity that fails humanity.

We’re social creatures, and we need each other to heal and thrive. In my experience, people who often look away from injustices aren’t the strongest ones, and trust me, are not the most positive ones either.

Positive people aren’t the ones who live in their own bubble, believing that other people’s suffering is a result of their own inadequacies. This is the easy way of doing life. Positive people are the ones who have the courage to admit they’re not God’s few chosen and stand by those who suffer so that a more equal world is created. Not just for the few, but for all.

In my opinion, positivity DOESN’T mean:

  • Obsessively chasing moments of happiness
  • Masking feelings our culture calls ‘negative’
  • Denying our truth to maintain a superficial state of peace
  • Looking away from real problems the world or others are facing
  • Not holding ourselves, people or institutions accountable for wrongdoings and injustices
  • Interpreting our privileges as ‘spiritual, universal truths’
  • Easily dismissing other people’s experiences as ‘negative’ or ‘toxic’

Personally, I don’t follow any influencers who reinforce this kind of superficial messaging of positivity, light and love. Even if they are genuine, they’re not my people.

This conversation is important because shame is fed with silence, pretence and oppression (of ourselves and others). Toxic positivity requires that we remain silent, pretend that all is good and nourish the dynamics that tolerate unacceptable forces of oppression in our society.

That’s why I value and honour radical realness and honesty more than anything else because this is the exact environment where shame cannot survive, and if something can change the world, I believe, is radical realness and honesty.

Love & grace,

Effie

Photo Credit: Amanda Jones

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Effie writes about and coaches people on Inner & Cultural Awakening helping them understand the connection between culture and our well-being, and build better lives based on a new self-awareness, while getting rid of biases that create separation between ourselves and others. She’s passionate about exposing the shame culture we live in and helping create one where everyone is and feels accepted, and the whole spectrum of human experience is normalised.