Can Positivity Be Toxic?
We have had all been there. You are talking to your friend, coworker, or family member. You share something about your asthma, such as how sick you are from the flu, or you can’t afford your medications. As you share your feelings of frustration and disappointment, the person who you’re sharing with says “Well, at least you don’t have a brain tumor like my friend’s sister, so you should be thankful.” Or, “At least you have insurance, so many people don’t even have that.”
These conversations are exhausting because these comments feel like they are meant to stop the conversation. Just think positive thoughts and everything will be fine! The idea that we are not allowed to feel sad about how asthma impacts our life because someone else has it worse is dismissive. Someone will always have it worse than me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get to feel sad or angry when asthma negatively impacts my life.
Comments like these are considered "toxic positivity"
The phrase “toxic positivity” refers to the idea that keeping positive, and keeping positive only, is the right way to live your life. Toxic positivity means only focusing on positive things and rejecting anything that may trigger negative emotions.
The pictures we see on social media and the internet doesn’t help. We are bombarded with images telling us that all of our problems can be solved if only we keep a positive attitude! This type of positivity is a form of victim-blaming - everything would be Instagram perfect if only we didn’t have negative feelings. This also creates feelings of guilt for not trying hard enough or makes us feel like a failure.
Why do people use toxic positivity?
I believe those who respond with toxic positivity do so because they don’t know how to respond when others are in pain or simply can’t relate to our experience. We look to others for empathy and support, but sometimes, those who matter most to us are unable to provide it.
We also do this to ourselves. We push our negative feelings down or mask them with happy quotes or the desire to just keep moving forward. I often tell myself, "It is what it is."
You can be grateful and still have negative feelings.
I try to live a life of gratitude. I am grateful I have a career I love where I am privileged to help others living with asthma. I have a supportive family and friends and a comfortable roof over my head. I am so happy that the years of allergy shots were successful and I now have an adorable dog. I am thankful that my asthma is not worse than it is, and that I have enjoyed a few years of good asthma control. I realize how lucky I am.
Even though I am grateful for all of my good fortune, I do allow myself to feel sorry for myself once in a while. My asthma cough is embarrassing. When I can’t stop coughing I sometimes wish the earth would open up and swallow me. When asthma symptoms keep me from attending holiday parties or seeing a dear friend from high school when she’s in town, I feel lonely and isolated. It's hard for me to "slay the day!" when I'm I am tethered to my nebulizer.
Having asthma is hard. Having a positive outlook will always help us live and manage our disease better. Acknowledging and feeling negative sometimes is just part of life, and doesn’t mean you don’t have an overall positive outlook.
Have you experienced these types of comments? How do you respond to toxic positivity? Let us know in the comments.
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