As the holidays quickly approach, many people will be reunited with family and friends they may not have seen in over a year. We are quickly entering into what we consider to be a “normal” or more “traditional” holiday season. However, many things have changed since the last time we all gathered around the table. We’ve lost loved ones, had significant changes in our careers, and constant disruptions in our educational system. Things are not quite how they used to be. And even through all the loss and all the change, we are all expected to remain “positive.”
The term “toxic positivity” has recently become a trending topic in the mental health world, particularly during the pandemic. So, what is it? The term toxic positivity is defined as the belief no matter how dire or traumatic a situation is that we should always keep a positive mindset. The idea stems from the fact that many people don’t know how to deal with negative emotions. We say things like “look at the bright side” or “things could be worse” as way to suppress how we feel or divert from talking about fear, anger or sadness. We praise our friends for being strong in the face of adversity. We put on our “happy face” at the office holiday party. While these comments and behaviors are well-intentioned, they can be seen as dismissive of our feelings.
I am guilty of this myself. I fear that by complaining or acknowledging my own personal feelings of sadness and fear that I somehow am ungrateful for the things I have. But our negative emotions are valid and should be treated as such.
My longtime friend, La Toya Carter who is a Licensed Professional Counselor says, “Identification and transparency are two of the best ways to avoid toxic positivity. Identify what you are feeling so you are able to process the emotion and not just sweep it under the rug. Then, be transparent with yourself and others about what you are feeling even if it is negative. Negative emotions are a part of life just like positive ones. This is even more important around the holidays when being with family can be triggering, and we have been taught to ‘just get through the holidays.'”