BY JEN MAKIN, CMHC
Toxic Positivity is defined by Medical News Today as, “An obsession with positive thinking. It is the belief that people should put a positive spin on all experiences, even those that are profoundly tragic.”
I’ve taken some time to consider this idea of Toxic Positivity. I can see the pull of it; the idea to steep yourself in positivity no matter the situation.
But as I pondered, I realized that there are a few holes in this.
For instance, let’s consider grief. Let’s say you get a call that a very close loved one has just passed away. Instead of allowing grief to run its course, you push it down and say things like:
- He lived a good life
- She is in a better place
- His legacy will always live on
- He’s with Jesus now, out of pain
- She lived life on her terms
- The past is the past, focus on the future
While all these things are true, they jump over important steps of grieving and feeling their emotions. There is strength in feeling your feelings and not only identify the feelings, but allowing yourself to experience them.
THE FLIP SIDE
Wallowing in big feelings is not what I’m saying. Resiliency is key, but to be resilient means to feel your feelings and implement coping skills.
But another aspect of this concept is best expressed through understanding what it means to be a victim.
A victim is someone who goes through a traumatic event.
Yes, day to day many of us face micro-traumas. We are put down, married to emotionally unavailable or abusive individuals and in constant pain. These situations break my heart. Truly, very sad.
The good news is, there are many resources in every community to help people in abusive situations. I help women navigate these often.
What I’m talking about is realizing what trauma is, day to day.
Going through an event that causes trauma, or great distress, includes these symptoms:
- Sleep disturbances
- Avoiding the place where the trauma occurred
- Anxiety or anxiety attacks
I am not here to judge what you may identify as trauma. What I’m saying is that this next generation is becoming very soft and seeing normal, day to day disappointments, as trauma.
I hear all too often that parents have hesitation to set boundaries with their children because they don’t want to cause trauma. Now, I’m not saying to abuse your child. I am a mandatory reporter and do not agree with abusing children.
That being said, I have three adult children; two that are still in high school. They know that there are expectations and boundaries to live in my home. They understand that though they reside in my home and are guests.
There are boundaries in place that allow my children to push against and feel that they are solid. Consistently.
WHAT TRAUMA IS NOT
Getting a bad grade is not trauma.
Setting boundaries with others and experiencing discomfort is not trauma.
Finding out the gender of your child that you weren’t expecting is not trauma.
Hearing “no” is not trauma.
The store not having your brand is not trauma.
These are life events that we need to have coping skills to overcome.
Holding boundaries with your children and feeling sad about it is not trauma.
So now that we have identified trauma, we can loop back to toxic positivity. When someone goes through a traumatic event, it’s important that they are lovingly walked through their trauma so that true healing can occur. If we just focus on the positive aspects of the trauma, this is unhealthy and actual causes more harm.
It’s harmful to have confusion between day to day disappointments and trauma. Focusing on the good in life events and seeing the blessing of hard life experiences is a very positive mindset.
My son faced a very challenging event at the age of 9. He sustained a traumatic brain injury, or TBI, due to a playground accident. It was awful. I cried. I couldn’t breathe. I knelt down and begged God to not take my child. I screamed into my husband’s chest. I bargained with God. Though it was ugly, it was necessary.
When people, in this primal grieving experience said:
- At least he’s still alive
- You’re so lucky he made it through the night
- I lost mine, you’re lucky
- You’re lucky you still have him
I was in deep denial, grief and pain while my son recovered in the hospital. When people pre-maturely tried to spin my tragedy into a blessing I wanted to punch them in the throat. It felt obnoxious that I couldn’t fully experience my feelings without judgement.
Now, I’m not saying that I agree with wallowing in pain. We have to be resilient, keep a positive outlook and continue on. But this does not mean jumping the gun and turning lemons into lemonade pre-maturely. It’s important to identify our feelings and create coping skills.
Getting stuck is a trap that many fall into.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Having a positive outlook is a great quality. Focusing on the positive is even better. But not seeing reality has the potential to create unsettling experiences, even dangerous.
Women get in cars with predatory men.
Girls say yes when they mean no.
Women give men the benefit of the doubt over and over and over.
Wives say sorry when they try to hold their husbands accountable.
It’s vital to see people as they are, to identify situations clearly and to move forward with caution and not always being positive, but rather setting boundaries