Toxic Positivity: A Call for Balance

As Reiki practitioners, we are keenly aware of the importance of caring for our energy on all levels – physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Indeed, as beings composed entirely of energy, vibrating at various frequencies, we also know that maintaining healthy energies is truly the path to wellness, growth, and evolution. In keeping with this, we strive to tend to our energies as we work to achieve an ever-higher energy frequency. We encourage ourselves (and sometimes others) to “keep your vibration high,” “stay positive,” and “look for the silver lining.” These are all worthy endeavors, but it is important to note that embracing positive clichés and platitudes as a way of life can cause us to dismiss, suppress, and ignore the range of feelings and emotions integral to the human experience. By stubbornly maintaining a sunny attitude and demeanor, even during extremely difficult and painful events, we are at risk of inviting the phenomenon of “toxic positivity” into our lives. Mental health practitioners define it as, “The overgeneralization of a happy optimistic state that results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.” 1

Toxic positivity is a relatively new concept among mental health practitioners2, many of whom indicate they have observed increased occurrences in 2020 due to the ongoing global pandemic and the collective trauma it continues to generate. Unfortunately, social media platforms contribute to this insincere forced optimism, as evidenced by posts encouraging us to learn a new skill, perhaps a new language, to be productive, and to view the crisis as a gift and a chance to “improve ourselves” and “be better.” Additionally, we risk criticism on social media if we do none of those things and instead express feeling sad, anxious, fearful, and unmotivated – all of which are perfectly natural and normal during a global crisis that has claimed more than one million lives as of this writing. If we receive a scolding for experiencing these emotions and chided for being a “gloomy Gus,” we may feel shame and guilt, leading to additional fear, sadness, and despair. We may cope by covering our unpleasant feelings with a false front of calm to avoid further shaming, thus beginning the toxic positivity cycle.

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How does toxic positivity manifest in our everyday lives? Characteristics include:

  • Hiding true feelings
  • Suppressing or ignoring an uncomfortable emotion
  • Experiencing shame or guilt (or both) because of normal unpleasant feelings
  • Pretending that all is well (I’m okay – really!)
  • Reproaching others for verbalizing uncomfortable “negative” feelings, and withholding validation for those feelings

It is quite likely that you recognize yourself in some of these behaviors – I most certainly did! After all, we are human, and as such,…

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