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Toxic positivity has taken over our minds, our relationships, and our lives.
It would be difficult to pinpoint when exactly this started. We could trace it back generations, I am sure. Most of us have grandparents who lived through the Great Depression and had no time for anything except surviving, perhaps.
One thing is for sure, the internet and social media only serve to ignite the depths of the online world with pretty, fancied graphics and multi-level marketing, flooding us all with the idea that any struggle is solvable so long as we work hard enough to ignore it.
From this multifaceted foundation, a society that is solution-focused was born. Then promptly reincarnated, repeatedly.
I first became acutely aware of toxic positivity and our incessant need to serve platitude solutions to all problems last year in the grief of my son. That may not be an entirely fair timeline though. I have always been a realist—not one to fancy imaginative games as a child and a lifelong philosophy of questioning everything. Combine that with my love of sociology and an insistent need to observe, dissect, and at least attempt to understand nearly all aspects of life and you have a well-rounded snapshot of who I am.
The moment I started to say that platitudes and “thoughts and prayers” comments were not helpful was the moment society shunned me and my grief. I was viewed as ungrateful, too difficult, and too rude.
That experience put me in a state of deep reflection and evaluation. First, I started to believe it was true. That I was overly dramatic, rude, and ungrateful. Which only served to make me feel further isolated, depressed, rejected, and alone. All these platitudes like “It was God’s will,” “Just be patient,” “Don’t worry, you’ll have another baby,” and “Don’t dwell on it and this will be easier,” were merely rude dismissals of my pain to me. They lacked depth and sincerity. And in all honesty, seriously pissed me off.
Convinced that there are just some things in life that never fully heal and to pretend otherwise is plain ignorant, I started to dissect this issue further. Was it me or was it a societally curated fallacy? Why do we believe that all problems have a solution? Why do we believe that we are being a supportive friend by simply offering platitudes?
Why can’t we just say, “That sucks, and I hate that it is happening to you”? Why don’t we know how to sift through the sucky parts of life?
The answer is because we have been sold generations and decades worth of toxic positivity.
When you push against the grain here, like I did, you illicit a torrent of criticism that stems from others’ discomfort. And, if like me, this happens to you, you might begin to internalize this. You may, like I did, become convinced for a time that you really are the problem—except that you are not.
We exist in an endless internet-powered sea of relentless and reckless optimism that seeps into our every fiber. It is shared on social media, weaponized against us in churches, and multi-level marketing training. Then exaggerated by the ever-present “thing” that is only sharing the perfectly curated parts of our lives on social media. We are inundated with everyone else’s highlight reel nearly all the time. All this reinforcing that we simply are not strong enough or trying hard enough. And my friend, that is unjustly untrue.
Psychology says that there are certain hurts that never heal. Seven hurts that never heal, to be exact:
4. Mental Illness
6. Chronic Illness
7. Loss of a loved one
Tears streamed down my face when I read this list. There it was in black and white from psychology professionals. I wasn’t crazy or dramatic. I was strangely normal in perhaps only this one aspect of my life. It was not a me problem. It really was a societal problem.
My advice, for whatever it may be worth is this: sit in what hurt. Share that hurt with others. Write about it. Start a blog (like I did). Build a community in which you can share with others.
You cannot shove these kinds of hurt in the back of the closet and fancily motivational quote your way through it. Eventually, you will fall from trying to carry the weight of that kind of coping.
Sit in it.
Make friends with your grief and your pain and your hurt. Tell those new friends everything. Let your stomach churn with rage and then sleep from exhaustion.
Because, then you can grow. When we learn to grow with our discomforts rather than disassociate from them, we are learning how to coexist with our emotions.
Yes, people will criticize you. A lot of people will turn away from you. But keep going. Please don’t fall victim to our over-celebrated, falsely narrated, reiterated toxic positivity culture. Because it is exactly that—false.