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Embracing the Shadows: The Pitfalls of Toxic Positivity

If you've dabbled at all in the wellness world, or have sought out self-help content online, it probably wasn't too long before you noticed a funny trend emerging. Articles likely beseeched you to "just think positive," "manifest what you desire," or insisted that "you choose how you feel." In other words, you stumbled across content filled with toxic positivity.


Toxic positivity is the "overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state resulting in the denial & invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience." Although often well-intentioned, this kind of messaging can do serious harm to those experiencing mental health issues, and can make the stigma of feeling sad or depressed even harder to bear as we find ourselves surrounded by "good vibes only" rhetoric.


Let's dive into why it's crucial to acknowledge the shadows and embrace the full spectrum of emotions, rather than striving for an unrealistic state of perpetual happiness.

 

We live in a world that glorifies happiness and positivity. From Instagram influencers with their endless beach selfies to self-help books promising the secret to eternal bliss, it's easy to feel like we're doing something wrong if we're not radiating joy 24/7. But here's the thing: life is a rollercoaster, not a merry-go-round. Emotions, both pleasant and unpleasant, are a natural part of the human experience.


Mindfulness, at its core, is about being present in the moment and fully experiencing whatever arises. It's not about suppressing our feelings or pasting on a fake smile. It's about acknowledging and accepting the full range of our emotions, no matter how uncomfortable they may be. That means giving space to sadness, anger, frustration, even boredom.


Toxic positivity, on the other hand, is like putting a shiny band-aid over a deep wound. It's the belief that we should always be happy and that any other emotion is a sign of weakness or failure. This mindset can be incredibly damaging. It denies the validity of our feelings and dismisses the very real struggles we face.


When we buy into toxic positivity, we're essentially telling ourselves that we're not allowed to feel what we feel. This can lead to a dangerous cycle of suppressing emotions, which can erupt in unpleasant ways in the future, both physically and emotionally. Suppressing so-called "negative" feelings is like trying to hold a beach ball underwater - sooner or later, they're bound to shoot back up with a vengeance.


Constantly striving for happiness can also create a sense of inadequacy within us. We start to believe that if we're not blissfully content all the time, we're somehow failing at life. This unrealistic expectation sets us up for disappointment and self-criticism, all the while comparing our lives to the highlight reels of others on social media, and wondering why we can't just be happy and carefree all the time like they seem to be.

 

So, how can we break free from the toxic positivity trap? It's all about embracing the messy, complicated, beautifully imperfect reality of being human.


First and foremost, give yourself permission to feel. Whether it's joy, sorrow, anger, or a complex mix of it all, it's all valid. Emotions are like the weather - they come and go, and that's perfectly okay.


Next, practice self-compassion. Treat yourself like you would treat a dear friend going through a tough time. Offer kind words, understanding, and support. Remember, you're not alone in this.


Another vital aspect of mindfulness is cultivating awareness without judgement. When an emotion arises, try not to label it as "good" or "bad." Instead, observe it with a curious, open heart. What does it feel like in your body? Where is it located? What thoughts are accompanying it? This kind of non-judgemental awareness allows us to process emotions in a healthy, constructive way.


And let's not forget the power of vulnerability. Sharing our struggles with trusted friends or seeking professional support can be a game-changer. It reminds us that we're not weak for feeling, but rather, we're profoundly human.


In a world that often insists on perfection, remember that the real magic happens in the messy middle. It's in our vulnerability, our pain, and our imperfections that we find true connection and growth. So, let's ditch the toxic positivity and embrace the full spectrum of our beautifully messy lives. What could be more human than that?

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