Since the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, our social media feeds are flooded with posts telling us to make the best of this time that the world has ‘bestowed’ on us. Yet, ironically, what these posts bestow on me is an uneasy feeling of not being enough.
Do I really need to be optimistic every single second of the day? Do I need to wake up grateful and thankful for being alive? Is there something called 'toxic positivity'?
There is a thin line between having a genuinely positive outlook towards life, and clinging to ‘apparent happiness’.
Toxic positivity means an over-generalisation of an excessively happy and optimistic outlook towards life, leaving no room for any other emotions that we feel and inevitably, invalidating them.
A common notion this pandemic promoted is to look at the ‘silver lining’ of the whole situation: A time to revamp yourself and make a better version of yourself.
Smruthi Krishnan, a student of Delhi University, shares her experience of returning to her hometown for what she thought was going to be a week-long vacation. It turned out to be an eight-month-long lockdown.
“When the lockdown was imposed, I was really frustrated about being stuck at home. But when I conveyed the same to my friends and family, I was pushed to look at the silver lining. I was constantly under pressure to stay positive even though we woke up to new horrors every day. I was asked to block out news media, social media and every ounce of negativity from my life to such an extent that it became toxic.”Smruthi Krishnan, student, University of Delhi
How is avoiding every ounce of reality a solution to being okay? Often, by telling people to just look at the brighter side of things, we try to sweep their issues under the carpet. What we don’t realise is that even when it is hidden, the problem still exists. The anxiety still prevails. The confusion about the future and the fear of a whole new lifestyle still exists.
“Every time I complained or cried, I was ridiculed or shamed because ‘millions had it worse than me’. I understand that I am privileged and I am thankful for it, but do I not have the right to feel sad? I know that there is light at the end of the tunnel, but do we need to envelope ourselves with every ounce of positivity without experiencing even a tiny ray of darkness?”Smruthi Krishnan, student, University of Delhi
Toxic positivity shames people’s emotions and problems, forcing them to slap a grin on their faces even when demons haunt their minds. People are compelled to hide their emotions and bottle them up in a tiny corner of their heart. But bottling up emotions also means there will eventually be an overflow.
When people are discouraged to talk about their feelings and are belittled for showing some sentiment, they look for a different outlet, sometimes even resulting in self-harm.
How Do We Tackle Toxic Positivity?
Avoiding difficult emotions stunts your intellectual growth and the process, as a whole, is unsustainable.
Today, the coronavirus fear is pushing 1-in-5 people towards depression.
No amount of ‘turning a new leaf’ or ‘a year you should be grateful for’ will fix that.
However, what might help a bit is accepting and knowing that sadness is okay. This is not an easy time and some days of the week, even getting out of bed is tough. You don't have to ignore the atrocities of the world with the fear that it might worsen your mental state and live in a bubble that says 'I am okay!'
Carl Jung rightly said, “I’d rather be whole than good”. We need to accept both ugly and beautiful parts of ourselves. What is the use of all the kindness in the world, if we can’t be kind towards ourselves?
Encouraging toxic positivity is being unkind.
Durgesh Ojha, Grief, Bereavement and Depression Counsellor, advises we keep in touch with our emotional side. He says,
“The yardstick is to keep in touch with one’s feelings and talk about it. It takes time and courage and you should not do it unless you feel comfortable enough.”Durgesh Ojha, Grief and Bereavement and Depression Counsellor
Often dismissal and belittling of emotions lead to relational isolation where a person is unable to deal with others. The result is a crippling feeling of alienation.
A reasonable solution is creating safe spaces to vent out without the feeling of being judged. Various organisations like Now&Me and Unbottle are doing a wonderful job in creating spaces where you can even vent out your emotions anonymously. There are other ways as well.
“One way could be writing a journal, going for a walk, meeting someone, watching something, whatever makes one get in touch with the deeper emotions and feelings.”Durgesh Ojha, Grief and Bereavement and Depression Counsellor