“Positivity is the answer: Learn to be positive and the outcome will eventually be a positive one.”
“Why are you so negative all the time? Ugh!”
“Everyday is a new beginning. Forget what happened yesterday and focus on the positives of today.”
There have been moments wherein most of us have come across these statements at least once in our lives. While the idea of positivity is a powerful one, it could possibly take an ugly turn over the course of time. Positivity is a state of being which makes us experience pleasant emotions of joy, curiosity, affection, confidence, contentment, amusement and so on.
While some amount of positivity is integral to overall well-being and improved quality of life, it requires to be grounded in realism.
Positivity as a state exists on a spectrum. We often have a tendency to bracket people as either being positive or negative, which are the two ends of the spectrum. However, this journey is not a linear one. We are constantly moving back and forth on this spectrum. Unpleasant emotions or negative states are a part of us. It is almost rare to only experience pleasant or unpleasant emotions.
Unpleasant emotions such as anger, fear, melancholy, loneliness and disgust sometimes act as survival mechanisms aiding us while we walk this road of evolution, success and growth. Emotions are fleeting. Every emotion that exists on this spectrum is crucial for our cognitive, emotional, behavioural, physical and spiritual well-being.
Over the last few years, there has been a considerable increase in the number of social media posts, articles, blogs and other forms of written and spoken material about “positive and happy thoughts.” The idea that our positive thoughts might instantly soothe us by changing the way we think, feel or behave acts as a barrier to our growth and evolution. It is thoughts combined with action that marks the journey to progress and not happy thoughts.
A fascinating irony then is that positivity can also be toxic. As E.B. Johnson puts it, “toxic positivity is marked by layers of consequences that come from relying too much on positive thoughts.” This state can often lead to denial, avoidance, resistance or sublimation of the actual thought, emotion or behavior, causing a build up of unpleasant emotions. This might later cause a tornado of emotions causing an upheaval within and around us.
The idea of being positive all the time makes us then set expectations that are not grounded in reality. Instead of viewing setbacks as a part of the process, somewhere we have completely sidelined the idea of failure on a task. This affects our psychological flexibility by making us feel guilty, angry, overwhelmed, anxious, fearful coupled with self blame.
Toxic positivity is like wearing a polyana glass where we view things as being rosy, favourable, bloomy, and sunny, even when it is taking a considerable toll on our personal and professional lives.
While there are several images, quotes and reading material out there asking us to think big and positive, stay strong, make a fresh start and constantly look for the good things, it is surreal to be on the positive end of the spectrum all the time. The human brain is constantly changing and rewiring itself with different experiences that we have on a day to day basis. Instead of pushing ourselves too hard to feel ecstatic all the time, embracing the unpleasant is the key to experiencing an authentic state of pleasant/healthy emotions.
Think of this, while we aspire to reach the peak while trekking, being grounded in reality about the possible hurdles prepares us to somewhere trek with ease. Hence, maintaining a balance between the pleasant and unpleasant states is a foundation to the pyramid of transformation.
Remember, not each day has to be a new beginning. Not each emotion needs to be explained. At times, embracing and witnessing the emotions and thoughts as they manifest on the surface without a conscious and deliberate effort to change them facilitates introspection and enhances awareness and insight. Authentic pleasantness is not achieved by shunning away unpleasant emotions, but by being acceptant, compassionate and less judgemental towards these parts of ourselves.
It is not rainbows and unicorns all the time. It is important to remember that not each sunrise would bring the best of you. And it is okay. It is okay to have your days, moments and emotions and be with them for a while. Taking time to process these thoughts and emotions is crucial for integrity and stability. On such days, instead of being hard on yourself or labelling yourself or by stretching yourself, your boundaries and putting up a front of everything being okay, could make things difficult for you to handle in the long run.
Instead of accepting the here and the now for what it is and coming to terms with it, we often allow our mind and body space, time and resources that it needs to heal itself. A little more kindness, compassion and acceptance towards who YOU are and what you are.. does wonders!
About Ms. Vishwa Modi
Ms. Vishwa Modi has pursued her bachelor’s in psychology from Mithibai college and further completed her master’s in psychology with a specialisation in Clinical psychology from S.N.D.T Women’s University. She has worked with several organisations across Mumbai.
Vishwa has worked with adolescents, adults and geriatric. She has an experience working with depression, anxiety, personality disorders, stress, conflicts, obsessive-compulsive disorder, relationship issues, anger management, self-esteem issues, body-image issues, complex trauma, stress, grief, void, lack of motivation and adjustment issues. Additionally, she is also a certified dementia trainer recognised by Alzheimer’s Disease International.
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