Toxic Positivity: Trials and Tribulations

Sona Soban James
Wednesday, March 9, 2022

In one of the episodes of the American teen drama series Euphoria, a scene depicts the character Kat in hysteria. Kat struggles to love herself and wants to express her feelings regarding it but is inundated by several hallucinations of influencers who preach the message of body positivity and tell her to accept her for who she is. We see the character being bullied by models who are considered beautiful by social standards, screaming "love yourself" at her while the narration describes how "...recently at some point, the whole world joined a self-help cult and won't shut up about it."

Like Kat, many nowadays suffer from the feelings of self-loathe and wants to find a way out of it but struggles to do so due to the world throwing cliched self-help messages while blatantly ignoring the actual questions of why they might be feeling so. Toxic positivity is defined as the act of rejecting or denying stress, negativity, or other negative experiences that exist (Sokal, Trudel, & Babb, 2020). It is the practice of turning a blind eye to concerns about mental health and instead, choosing to shove down pills of positivity that cures neither the cries nor the crisis.

Oftentimes, it is difficult to figure out the nature of the positivity that we encounter. We might regard someone's response to be dismissive of our distress while simultaneously feeling dramatic in classifying it as so. This is because such responses usually try to cover up what the person might be facing. Telling someone to feel grateful when they express feelings of dismay is an example of toxic positivity. It is important to note that these pieces of advice are not innately incorrect, but usually end up hurtful because of being conveyed at the wrong time.

One of the key points of life is balance. The expulsion of negative feelings and replacing them with positivity is not only harmful but also threatens our equilibrium. Instead of dealing with issues by putting a facade, we can adopt methods that efficiently encounter such Gordian knots. Having empathy and being mindful of others and one's own emotions are techniques that help us in doing so. We should also stop categorizing anxiety-inducing or disturbing emotions as negative and think of them as guidance. Such emotions can serve as cues to make sense of what bothers us and hence, help us to arrive at solutions. In a world that chases perfection, staying true to ourselves is the only way to help us from its clutches.

Sona Soban James
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