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Toxic Positivity: Why Being Positive Could Be Bad Sometimes

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Toxic Positivity: Why Being Positive Could Be Bad Sometimes

Think back to a time when you experienced emotional disappointment or shock – perhaps a loss of a job, an illness or diagnosis for yourself or a family member, an accident, breakup, or life-changing bad news.

Remember the frustration, hurt, sadness, anxiety, fear, or worry you felt.

As you reflect, do you remember a well-meaning friend or family member trying to pep you up with positivity and hope?

Perhaps you were met with, “Everything happens for a reason”, “This too shall pass” or “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. Maybe they said, “It’s going to be okay”, “You’ll get through this” or “Don’t worry, you’ll find someone else”. Or, maybe they tried to make you feel better by sharing, “I know someone who had that same type of [insert diagnosis] and they’re doing great now”, “Never Give up” or my favorite, “It could be worse”.

How did you feel? What was your reaction? Did their positivity and optimism make you feel better? Did it make you feel loved and understood? Or did you feel upset, invalidated, unheard?

That is toxic positivity.

What Is Toxic Positivity?

Toxic Positivity can be defined as:

    Here are some examples of toxic positivity:
    • Ignoring, hiding, downplaying, or dismissing your emotions or real feelings.
    • Feeling bad, guilty, or shameful for how you feel.
    • Putting on a “game face” to the world when you feel differently inside.
    • Pretending everything is okay when it’s not.
    • Minimizing others’ emotions.
    • Shaming people for having negative emotions.
    • Invalidating someone’s experience by not acknowledging the real issue/pain/frustration.
    • Minimizing someone’s pain with quotes and perspective.

    While I’m a big supporter of positive psychology[1] – and we all know the many benefits of positivity and optimism – there are times when these traits are not only unhelpful but can be destructive and harmful.

    Positivity is not positive when it denies, invalidates, or minimizes authentic human emotions.

    Optimism is not helpful when it makes people feel shame, guilt, or invalidated for feeling a certain way.

    Hope is not useful when it does not allow for the natural rise and fall of emotions or when it ignores the gravity of a situation.

    Stoicism is not brave or courageous when it forces you to stuff down your real, true emotions and be inauthentic and incongruent with what you really feel.

    Perspective is not supportive when it marginalizes your experience.

    During this crazy pandemic, people are feeling scared, confused, fearful, overwhelmed, sad, and angry. As a result, many try to put things into perspective by saying, “At least you have a roof over your head, food to eat, loved ones,” or, my favorite, “It could be worse”.

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    Yes, it could be worse and it still feels really bad to those in the middle of it. People try to bring hope to the situation by reminding us that Shakespeare wrote King Lear and Sir Isaac Newton developed his theory of gravity in quarantine.

    Good for them. But did they—like many friends I have talked with—have kids they were trying to homeschool while working full time and a husband who lost his income? I thinketh not.

    We often brush people’s problems off by saying, “Yeah, sounds rough. First World Problems!” But those problems, while first-world (and I’m not denying or minimizing there are much worse situations) are still REAL to whoever is experiencing them. Deeming them “First World Problems” only makes people feel worse, guilty, and shameful.

    In the book, There’s No Good Card for This: What To Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love, they share research that states,

    “Unbridled positivity in an experience of failure or distress makes people feel worse, not better.”

    I’m Guilty

    I’ll admit it. I grew up in a positive, supportive, encouraging family. My parents were always imparting words of wisdom and perspective in every situation. They are positive, upbeat, entrepreneurs who move forward quickly when things get them down.

    Whether by nature or nurture, or both, I grew up to be a positive and optimistic person myself. I see the bright side of everything.

    Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you I have a wealth of stories, metaphors, and yes, quotes in my back pocket for any situation that may have you down. That is not to say I haven’t had my fair share of hardships, grief, and loss. I have. But I always try to see the upside.

    I’ve learned over the course of my life and career that while some people love the hope and optimism I bring to most situations, there is a time and place for positivity and more importantly, a time and place for compassion, acknowledgment, and validation.

    Alternatives to Toxic Positivity

    Acknowledging and Validating Other’s Feelings and Emotions Goes a Long Way

    Often, all someone wants and needs is the acknowledgment and validation of their feelings. We all want to feel heard and seen. We don’t want someone to tell us how to feel or not feel or how it “isn’t that bad.”

    But First, You Must Acknowledge Your Own

    When you don’t face your own emotions, they will always rise back up.

    What the mind conceals the body reveals.

    When you try to hide, push down, or ignore your emotions and feelings, they don’t just go away. They go deep within you. They eat at you. They cause ulcers, back pain, sickness. That “sudden” heart attack, “unexplained” high blood pressure, or “confounding” anxiety may not be so inexplicable after all.

    Believe me; I learned this the hard way.

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    You need to acknowledge and feel your emotions. It’s okay to not be okay—to be angry, tired, scared, or frustrated. When you feel your emotions, it provides release and prevents those feelings from eating away underneath the surface. In fact, there are many benefits to experiencing negative emotions.

    In a study on emotional acceptance, Iris Mauss, associate professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, found that “people who habitually accept their negative emotions experience fewer negative emotions, which adds up to better psychological health.”[2]

    That doesn’t mean you need to wallow in your negative emotions. Once you acknowledge and accept, they can surface and pass.

    Body Worker Dr. Ruth Ziemba once told me, “Feel your feelings but don’t let them become you.” This has stuck with me for years. Instead of “I am sad,” I can acknowledge “I am feeling sad.” I don’t have to get stuck in that state.

      Empathy and Compassion Are Almost Always the Right Response

      Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, or the ability to put yourself in their shoes. A simple, “That sounds really hard,” or “I’m sorry you’re going through that” goes a lot further than unchecked optimism.

      The same goes for compassion. Compassion—from the roots passion (suffering) and com (with)—means to suffer with another. Compassion is an innate part of human response to suffering, which is comprised of a three-part experience of noticing another’s pain, feeling with another, and responding in some way.[3]

      The key here is to notice their pain, feel with them, and respond in a way that works for their needs and situation.

      Vulnerability Builds Rapport

      I remember doing a leadership workshop early in my career. We came to a session where the participants were providing feedback to each other about their leadership style. It was my turn to receive feedback, and I’ll never forget what happened. I remember every detail like it was yesterday.

      Lauren, a thoughtful, confident, blonde, pretty, and likable leadership coach faced me and said, “I feel like I can’t connect with you as everything is always so positive.”

      I looked around as the rest of the room nodded and voiced their agreement. I was shocked. And then I was angry. Instead of taking it in, I went on the defensive. Turns out I had missed her point completely.

      It wasn’t that I had to bare my soul or walk around sad, frustrated, or angry all the time; they just wanted to see all of me, and they felt they hadn’t. That made me less relatable and connected. I brushed this off and moved on. That must be their issue. But it wasn’t.

      I received this feedback many times over the course of my career. My positivity and optimism (while real and genuine and mostly helpful) made me unrelatable at times. People liked being around me because of these traits, but it could leave them feeling like they were never fully connected.

      Later in my career, a mentor of mine shared that “vulnerability builds rapport.” It’s true. It does.

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      When people see all of you, they get to know you. They feel closer, more connected, and accepted. I learned that I needed to be more open with my struggles and challenges.

      In addition, when others face things that were stressful, upsetting, or downright painful, I needed to be more sensitive, thoughtful, and not hand out my suggestions for how to fix it, words of wisdom, or positive quotes, at least not right away.

      Timing Is Everything

      I want to be clear. This is not to say you can’t be positive, share your experiences, hope, and optimism with others. That optimism and hope might be just what someone needs. Just remember, there is a time and place for everything.

      When your best friend just told you that her boyfriend left her unexpectedly, telling her, “You’ll find someone better” or “I never liked him anyway” is not going to be helpful. Instead, ask her how she is, sit and talk with her, bring her some ice cream.

      Allow her to feel her emotions. Then, as the wounds start to heal, let her know how great she is, that you know she will find someone, and then offer inspiration, optimism, and positivity.

      People will often look back at a situation and be able to see the upsides, learn the lesson, and realize everything did happen for a reason but . . .

      It’s difficult to see the rainbow when you’re in the middle of a storm.

      Reach for the Next Best Emotion

      In many spiritual fields, people refer to an emotional frequency scale, ranging from shame at the bottom to enlightenment at the top. Many spiritual teachers speak about reaching for the “next best emotion.”

      If you are feeling fear, it’s very difficult to leap from that frequency all the way to joy because someone provides perspective or positivity. Instead, you can work your way up the ladder. If you can move from fear to courage, you can move to acceptance and ultimately to love, joy, and peace.

      So, when you’re supporting someone (or yourself), don’t expect to go from depressed to happy in one fell swoop. It’s helpful to take baby steps up the emotional ladder, and as long as you are making progress, you’re on the right track.

        Just Listen

        Often, we force optimism because we don’t know what to say to a given situation. Someone we love is hurting, and we want them to feel better.

        Often, we are uncomfortable in the negative emotions (yep, that’s me) so you want to fix it. You want to do something—anything to make them feel better. Remember, that listening IS something. Listen to understand what’s going on. Hold space for them to openly share without the fear of judgment, criticism, or shame.

        When you take the time to listen, you can truly understand how someone feels about a situation. And when you truly understand how they feel, you will be better prepared to respond when the time and place are right.

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        Follow Their Lead

        When someone shares something that is going on for them, follow their lead. If they lead with their frustration and disappointment, allow them to go down that path. If they start down the path of optimism and hope, jump on that train with them.

        A few years ago, I was at a party when a friend who I hadn’t seen in a while told me she was getting divorced. My response of, “I’m so sorry” was met with, “No, it’s the best thing that’s happened to me! I’m so relieved and so happy to be moving forward with my life. We’re both in a really good place.”

        Find out where they are and ride their wavelength, not your own.

        Just Be There

        Often, we respond with unhelpful positivity or optimism because we don’t know what else TO DO.

        Hope is real, and so is pain. When someone is hurting, they often don’t need or want anything from you. They just want to know you’re there for themwhen they’re happy or when they’re not, in the good and the bad.

        Be kind. Be compassionate. Validate their feelings. Let them know you’re there for them.

        Real Vibes Only

        It’s time to replace your “Positive Vibes Only” or “Good Vibes Only” sign with “Real Vibes Only”.

        In the end, it’s not about being positive or negative, optimistic, pessimistic, or anything in between. It’s about being real and authentic.

        I will always be a silver lining, see the good in everything type of person. That’s just who I am. I am proud of being optimistic and positive. I do believe everything happens for a reason and that it will all be good in the end. If it’s not good, it’s not the end.

        However, I have learned that there is a time and place for everything. Including acknowledgment, validation, and compassion so we can all heal and move forward. Because toxic positivity is not really all that positive after all.

          Tips on Avoiding Toxicity

          Featured photo credit: yns plt via unsplash.com

          Reference

          More by this author

          Tracy Kennedy

          Lifehack's Personal Development Expert, a results-driven coach dedicated to helping people achieve greater levels of happiness and success.

          Why New Year Resolutions Fail And How to Set Yourself up for Success How to Deal with Setbacks And Use Them for Future Success How to Deal with Uncertainty And Have Peace of Mind 12 Proven Ways To Increase Your Intellectual Wellness How to Build Self-Esteem: A Guide to Realize Your Hidden Power

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          Last Updated on December 6, 2021

          Feeling Lost? 40 Quotes to Help You Find Meaning in Life

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          Feeling Lost? 40 Quotes to Help You Find Meaning in Life

          Sometimes, we carry with us ancient wisdom that has been whispered through generations where we find strength for what we need. Other times, we sense our happiness and sanity have been swept away, and we float rudderless in our space. We wonder if we’re heading in the right direction and feel doom rather than the transformation. In these moments, we may need some feeling lost quotes to help us find inspiration again.

          During the times when we feel lost, it’s too easy to forget the comfort of good times and wade through the fluff that separates us from the pack.

          I often work in leadership and have to test my limits and inspire those I’m leading. One of the quotes I keep in mind by T.S. Elliot is:

          “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

          Knowing how you will perform in a crisis, personally or professionally, can help you get through tough times. The people who tend to work best in a crisis or stay calm in stressful times are those who are honest and forthright.

          We often try to find sense in our lives with logic, reducing perceived risks by increasing control. The problem with control is you can hold on too tight, narrowing your options and missing the big picture.

          Trying to squeeze action out of undefined goals only increases the pressure. Being happy comes from a sense of self and freedom, not a narrow list you’ve locked yourself into.

          Sometimes, we need to observe our life in new ways and examine it with wisdom we doubt we have. Those big successes are done with small incremental actions done every day. Who will you choose to be in times of doubt?

          Whether you bookmark this page for future inspiration or show off powerful, inspiring quotes on your T-shirt, coffee mug, key chain, and screen saver, these 40 feelings lost quotes will help remind you of your true essence.

          We can reconnect with our priorities and take inspiration from both the ancients and modern visionaries with some of my favorite words below that inspire simplicity and truth.

          Feeling Lost Quotes

          1. “If you are working on something you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you” –Steve Jobs

          2. “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.” –Gordon Eadie

          3. “One of the truest tests of integrity is a blunt refusal to be compromised.” –Chinua Achebe

          4. “The fears we don’t face become our limits.” –Amy Elizabeth

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          5. “Be who you needed when you were younger.” –Anonymous

          6. “We generate fears when we sit. We overcome them by action.” –Dr. Henry Link

          7. “The intangible represents the real power of the universe. It is the seed of the tangible.” –Bruce Lee

          8. “Storms make trees take deeper roots.” –Dolly Parton

          9. “When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.” –Henry Ford

          10. “If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” –Vincent Van Gogh

          11. “Stop acting so small, you are the universe in ecstatic motion.” –Rumi

          12. “A tree that is unbending is usually broken.” –Loa Tzu

          13. “What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.” –Plutarch

          14. “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” –Plato

          15. “Your teacher can open the door, but you must enter by yourself.” –Chinese proverb

          16. “To get lost is to learn the way.” –African Proverb

          17. “Don’t be distracted by criticism. Remember the only taste of success some people have is when they take a bite out of you.” –Zig Ziglar

          18. “Do you know who you are? Don’t ask. Act. Action will delineate and define you.” –Thomas Jefferson

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          19. “Give thanks for what you are today and go on fighting for what part of you will be gone tomorrow.” –William Shakespeare

          20. “Sorrow looks back. Worry looks around. Faith looks up.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

          21. “One day you will ask me which is more important, my life or yours? I will say mine and you will walk away not knowing that you are my life.” –Kahlil Gibran

          22. “You were born to be real, not to be perfect.” –Anonymous

          23. “After climbing a great hill, one only finds there are many more hills to climb.” –Nelson Mandela

          24. “We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated.” –Maya Angelou

          25. “I wash my hands of those who imagine chattering to be knowledge, silence to be ignorance and affection to be art.” –Kahlil Gibran

          26. “Fear is only as deep as the mind allows.” –Japenese Proverb

          27. “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell

          28. “Go within every day and find the inner strength so that the world will not blow your candle out.” — Katherine Dunham

          29. “One swallow does not make a summer, neither does one fine day. Similarly, one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy.” — Aristotle

          30. “There are two ways to live your life. One is as if nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is a miracle.” — Albert Einstein

          31. “You got to go down a lot of wrong roads to find the right one.” — Bob Parson

          32. “Anger, resentment, and jealousy doesn’t change the heart of others. It only changes yours.” — Shannon L. Alder

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          33. “To be lost is as legitimate a part of your process as being found.” — Alex Ebert

          34. “Scar tissue is stronger than regular tissue. Realize the strength, move on.” — Henry Rollins

          35. “The greatest mistake you can make in life is to continually be afraid you will make one.” — Elbert Hubbard

          36. “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the rain.” — Vivian Greene

          37. “Nothing is more beautiful than the smile that has struggled through the tears.” — Demi Lovato

          38. “Leave your front door and your back door open. Allow your thoughts to come and go. Just don’t serve them tea.” — Shunryu Suzuki

          39. “Tough times never last, but tough people do.” — Robert H. Schuller

          40. “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” — C.S. Lewis

          Sometimes It’s Ok to Feel Lost

          After looking at these feeling lost quotes, it is easy for someone to be confused. But these inspirational quotes will guide you to hear a voice every time when the risk is high, and you have nowhere to run. It is always easy to choose the shortcut and ignore the voice of the subconscious to do the right thing!

          No matter how dire the circumstances might be, you need to make efforts and find ways to uplift your morale. Not making an effort is more painful than the risk of immersing your thoughts in negativity.

          When you are feeling lost, it is natural to be confused about the next step. However, you have to determine when the risk of staying in a sad state for a longer period is causing more harm than good.

          And don’t you worry, it’s okay sometimes to feel lost and not know where you are heading in your life. We go through various phases in life, and none of them stay permanent. Remember that “Life is a work-in-progress” and this too shall pass. Keeping hope is very important if you want to sail through the tides of life.

          Don’t Be too Hard on Yourself

          Everyone is fighting their fight in their ways, but none can say – “I know it all.” Life is a constant struggle, and everyone has to push through personally to overcome obstacles.

          Whether it is your professional life that’s making you feel lost or your personal life brought about this state of mind, remember that you alone can find the solution. Happiness is a state of mind, and you alone can control the emotions that can bring a change in your attitude when you are feeling lost.

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          No one can tell you what your purpose is in the world, and only you have to decide that on your own. The universe has given us life and one that teaches us various things through unique experiences. Some might be good, and some might be bad.

          So, don’t beat yourself up or be hard on yourself even if you have not yet figured it out. It’s okay! You don’t owe anyone an explanation about why it is taking so long or why haven’t you been able to figure it out yet. Go at your own pace, and you shall reach where you intend to. Nothing is permanent, and you will find your way out. It’s just a matter of time.

          Rather than complaining and belittling yourself, you can try brainstorming ideas to help you move on. Procrastinating and beating yourself up will only drown the motivation and bring nothing of value but just self-pity.

          Don’t forget if you set your heart to something, you can achieve it. Feeling lost is not a permanent state, and to uplift your emotions, you need to have faith.

          Final Thoughts

          Many of these feeling lost quotes have a common core. That is, to take a step back and view yourself in a new way.

          Take action and make inspiration a routine. To act creates learning, and that builds confidence, provides direction, and eliminates doubt.

          Imagine what you want it to be so that your vibration matches your desire. We can’t snap our fingers to instantly change feeling lost, but we can increase our situational awareness with our emotions and places where our lives have or may take an abrupt turn.

          We take inspiration from our daily lives in as many individually unique forms as we are different. Inspiration can strike instantly and sporadically or feel like a trickle that slowly grows into a majestic waterfall crashing through with creative energy. That trickle is what will keep you going in dark times.

          When you’re in a place where you feel lost and don’t recognize yourself, allow some inner compassion for the person you are right in that moment[1].

          You have the power to create your world, one step at a time, and these feeling lost quotes can help. You choose how you think. Tune in to how you feel and why.

          Remember you have the power to be, have, and do anything you desire. Tough times never last, but tough people do.

          See what I did there? Another quote to inspire original thought as it applies to you. It’s been said that if you want to test a man’s character, give him power and you will see his true colors. So keep your inspiration on tap for when you need a reminder of your purpose.

          More to Inspire You When You’re Feeling Lost

          Featured photo credit: Daniel Jensen via unsplash.com

          Reference

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