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  • TGMC

S2E2: Toxic Positivity and Grief

The term toxic positivity has been having a moment since the start of the pandemic and we truly get it. Having a positive outlook is always seen as...well... a positive. It can help people overcome challenges, build resilience, and improve mental and physical health. On a grief journey, it can be the very thing that gets you out of bed every day. However, when positivity is enforced at all costs, it can become toxic and harmful, especially to those on a grief journey.

Toxic positivity is the idea that one must maintain a positive mindset and avoid negative emotions at all costs. This mindset ignores the fact that negative emotions, such as sadness, anger, and grief, are a natural part of the human experience. When people are told to “just think positively” or “focus on the good,” it invalidates their feelings and can make them feel ashamed or guilty for experiencing negative emotions. This could be truly detrimental to a grieving person. They are more than likely already experiencing shame and guilt associated with losing their person. The spiral becomes even deeper when they feel shame on top of shame for feeling.

Toxic positivity is often seen in the form of well-intentioned platitudes such as “everything happens for a reason”, “look on the bright side" or "they're in a better place." While these phrases may be meant to comfort someone who is struggling, they can also be dismissive and make the person feel like their emotions are not valid. Encouraging people to “stay positive” can put pressure on them to suppress their emotions, which can lead to a range of negative consequences such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. As they say in therapy, "the only way to is through," so we need to feel our feels in order to work through them and land on the other side.

Toxic positivity can also create a culture where people feel like they are not allowed to express negative emotions, which can lead to a lack of empathy and understanding.

People who are struggling may feel like they have to put on a brave face and pretend like everything is fine, even when it’s not. This can prevent them from seeking the support and help they need. We call this toxic resilience or the myth of staying strong.

So, what can we do to combat toxic positivity? It starts with acknowledging that negative emotions are a natural part of the human experience. It’s okay to feel sad, angry, or frustrated sometimes. Instead of trying to suppress these emotions, we should encourage people to express them in healthy ways. LIKE GOING TO THERAPY!

It’s also important to practice empathy and understanding. When someone is struggling, instead of telling them to “stay positive,” we should listen to them and validate their feelings. We should let them know that it’s okay to feel sad, angry, or frustrated and offer support and resources to help them cope.

So yes, while positivity can be a powerful tool for improving mental and physical health, it’s important to recognize that toxic positivity can be harmful. By acknowledging the validity of negative emotions and practicing empathy and understanding, we can create a culture where people feel safe to express their emotions and seek the support they need. It doesn't mean you absolutely cannot have a positive mindset. It just means that leaving space for feeling crappy is okay too.

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