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by David N Johnson

June 21, 2022

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I’m going to say it right up front so that there isn’t any confusion. There is nothing inherently wrong with being happy. I myself am an extremely happy person, I wake up that way. However, when being happy is used to cover up or push down how you really feel, it becomes toxic to your well being.

Wikipedia defines toxic positivity as a dysfunctional approach to emotional management that happens when people do not fully acknowledge negative emotions, particularly anger and sadness.

As human beings we have a wide range of emotions that slide from one side of the scale to other. From positive to negative. It’s when a situation that warrants sadness (for example) is mismatched with an unrealistic expectation to always be happy that positivity becomes toxic.

As you can imagine this isn’t good for you mental health.

When looking back at what I’ve written here at DavidNJohnson.com I can see how I’ve unintentionally helped push the narrative that you should ALWAYS look on the bright side and be grateful for what you have. Some may misconstrue that as a call to push your negative emotions down and only project happiness. This post is my attempt to rectify that.

While I think it’s great advice to find the bright side and to always be grateful, that does not mean you should ignore all your other emotions.

We’re bombarded with memes and quotes that tell us to be positive. To always be happy. That if you don’t want to be sad then all you have to do is change your outlook.

The pressure we feel to appear OK causes us to negate a whole range of emotions. This causes us to doubt ourselves when we feel sad or angry, pushing us to internalize the idea that we are weak or not good enough.

Judging yourself for feeling any way other than positive and happy can lead to secondary emotions such as shame or regret. Toxic positivity can distract you from practicing self-love and can lead to negative self-talk that causes you to spiral further and further away from your goals, yourself, and others.

At its very core, toxic positivity is all about avoidance. There have been many studies that have shown when you actively try to avoid something you actually think more about it.

In reality, it doesn’t make sense to cover up the negative stuff by PRETENDING to be happy. It does you and others a disservice.

So, deal with you stuff.

It’s Okay Not To Be Okay

First, understand that negative emotions are not bad. Much like our pain sensors warn us when something is too hot, our negative emotions let us know that something in our environment is not quite right.

Take anxiety for example. Being anxious is an emotion characterized by feeling tense, having worrisome thoughts, and even high blood pressure. Being anxious alerts you that something needs to change. That you are too stressed.

Anger could be letting you know that something is unjust. It’s okay to not be okay.

If you push those emotions to the side and because you don’t want to deal with them you replace them with forced positivity, you are doing yourself a disservice.

Dealing With Negative Emotions

The first step in dealing with negative emotions is to acknowledge the emotion. Don’t cover it up. Finding a label for your emotions is a great start. Is it anger you feel? Shame? How about anger, hurt, or annoyance?

By the way. How many negative emotions can you list? Most people can only name a few. To give you a list of better labels here are a few to get you started.

  • anguish
  • annoyed
  • Anxious
  • apathy
  • apprehension
  • aversion
  • baffled
  • discontentment
  • disgruntled
  • disgust
  • disheartened
  • dislike
  • dismay
  • disoriented
  • scorn
  • self-conscious
  • self-critical
  • self-doubtful
  • self-loathing
  • self-pity
  • shame
  • humiliation
  • hurt
  • hysteria
  • impatient
  • indignant
  • infuriated
  • insecurity
  • insulted
  • irritated

The list goes on.

The second step is figure out what message the emotion is trying to tell you. Get into the habit of asking yourself “what is making me feel this way?”

By thinking about the cause instead of dwelling on the emotion itself you begin to understand why you feel the way that you do.

The third step is to understand that while you can’t always control the way you feel, you can cantol how you react to it.

Slow things down. Ask yourself if you’re thinking rationally. If you are, then apply a little logic and really think about how to overcome what’s causing your negative emotions.

If you have to, remove yourself from the situation you find yourself in and cool off a little. Then, get back to it.

Step four is to decide how you’ll respond to whoever or whatever is causing you to feel those negative emotions.

Always remember that no matter how hard things are or how bad it gets you are always in control of how you respond to it.

The reverse of that is that you can’t control what you can’t control. You can only fix your side of things. So, focus on what you can control.

Overcoming Toxic Positivity

You can be too happy. Not about happy things of course, go on and be as happy about those as you want. I’m talking about the emotions where being happy is an avoidance tactic.

Don’t avoid your feels. Get in touch with them. Understand them. Get to know them and the why behind them. Become a master of KNOWING your emotions and what they mean.

Toxic positivity will stunt your personal growth. If you’re avoiding how you feel and the why behind them then you are limiting your ability to grow beyond your current self.

By being in touch with what your emotions are trying to tell you, you’ll become a more well rounded HAPPIER person.

Go figure.

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David N Johnson

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David N Johnson

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