To hell with ‘good vibes only‘.
We live in a world where “be positive!” quotes are pushed down our throats like there’s no tomorrow. We can see it in books, on TV, on social media, in songs…it’s what sells! This is because positivity is attractive. As human beings, we are naturally attracted to people who seem joyful, happy, and fun. It’s in our nature.
But when does the pressure to maintain this positive mindset start to become harmful — and, first of all, can it?
It’s complicated. It is safe to say that most of us admire and respect positive people — I know I do. There’s just something about them…the way they carry themselves, the way they inspire others, the way they seem to just, I don’t know, glow? Like, excuse me sir, are you an alien? Can you show me your secrets? Because I need that radiance.
The thing about positivity is, it’s contagious. If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “surround yourself with positive people”, this is why. This is also why we tend to stray from negative people – as sentient beings, we can feel people’s energies, and many times, we can let those energies get to us. Who wants to be around somebody who is constantly moping and feeling bad for themselves?
In this sense, positivity is beneficial. Practicing optimism can help us adapt to everyday situations. However, when we attempt to push that “stay positive” mindset onto others without validating how they feel, it can become toxic.
Dismissive positivity is the idea that encouraging people to only be happy, cheerful, and positive without validating their negative feelings can actually be more detrimental than helpful. I am sure that if you’ve ever struggled with depression, anxiety, or have simply ever been through a tough time, you’ve experienced this.
Picture this: you’re a kid. You just lost your pet, you found out you got a bad grade on a quiz, and you served yourself some cereal this morning only to realize there’s no milk in the fridge. Your mom then comes in your room, and upon seeing you sad, meets your (completely valid) despair with this:
“You have to see the good in everything! Don’t cry! Better things will come along! Never give up!“
Welp. You are then left to feel like there’s no room for negative emotions. You might force yourself to put on a (false) positivity mask and go about your day, attempting to ignore your negative emotions and even feeling guilty, impatient, or angry towards them. And, though appreciative of your mom’s positive words, they might end up making you feel worse.
The tricky thing about dismissive positivity is that it usually comes from the people we love the most – our friends, our family, and our partners. It also usually comes from a good place — our loved ones don’t want to see us hurting!
However, when we are raised or treated this way, forced to maintain a good attitude all the time, we grow up to be adults with baggage. When we attempt to mask our emotions and do not allow ourselves to feel them, we are sweeping them away under the rug of our subconscious mind. Someday, these emotions will come back up, and when they do, they’ll come back even more intensely.
The takeaway? Always validate somebody’s feelings. Hold space for their emotions. Don’t dismiss or make them feel like they are wrong for feeling sad or depressed. Don’t make them feel like their despair is “not a big deal”.
Instead of telling someone who struggles with depression to “think happy thoughts” or to “just be happy”, say things like, “I am sorry you are feeling this way. I am sure this has to be hard. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help”. Many times, people are not looking for advice or for you to help them feel better. They are looking to feel seen, heard, and most of all, validated.
Until next time.