If you follow world news at all, especially since the beginning of 2020, you’ve probably felt the burden of negativity weighing you down. The same can be true in your personal life, your work life, or anywhere that people are present, if you look for it there is plenty of negativity to go around.
So how could a little positivity possibly be a bad thing?
The truth is… it’s not! A positive outlook, at its core, is a great asset. In fact, there’s plenty of research backing up the benefits of taking a more upbeat outlook on life. For example, when medical researchers studied a group of people with a strong family history of cardiac disease, they found that patients with a more positive outlook were a full third less likely to have a heart attack or other cardiac event!
So What Is Toxic Positivity? Can You Be Too Positive?
Dr. Susan David defines toxic positivity as “forced, false positivity. It may sound innocuous on the surface, but when you share something difficult with someone and they insist that you turn it into a positive, what they are really saying is, ‘My comfort is more important than your reality.”
(This incredible quote from Dr. David was taken from her guest appearance on Brene Brown’s podcast.)
The Consequences of Toxic Positivity
While being overly positive may not seem too destructive on the surface, it has many consequences. This can even be true when we find ourselves speaking with toxic positivity in our own self-talk!
Toxic positivity can lead us to deny the reality of the emotions that we’re facing. Depending on your personality type, you may tend to deny your emotions (or at least the ones you deem negative!) in general. This rarely ends well. Usually, it ends up with the negative feelings building and building and building.
In the end, these feelings will be released. It’s only a matter of time. They might “seep out sideways” through passive aggression or snapping at a stranger in the grocery store. Or you might wind up having a major meltdown. But regardless of how these feelings end up presenting themselves, the fact is this: emotions that you deny and repress never stay repressed.
Guilt for Feeling Negative Emotions
Some people tend to deny or repress emotions they don’t want to feel. Others of us feel that we have no choice but to experience feelings like sadness, fear, and anxiety. But even people who don’t struggle to feel their feelings can have a tendency to feel guilty for them!
And toxic positivity can intensify this guilt. But in reality, feelings are just that: feelings. They don’t define who we are, and we aren’t defined by our fears or worries. And we don’t need to feel guilty for being fearful or worried.
Fertility treatments can be trying, even in the best of circumstances! Worrying about the outcome of a treatment or test is a sign that you’re normal, not that anything is wrong with you! People who operate in a mindset of toxic positivity will make statements like, “You should just be grateful for the things you have in your life!” “Everything happens for a reason!” “Don’t focus on unwanted test results!” These kinds of statements are not helpful. In fact, they are dismissive of your true feelings.
But the fact of the matter is that it’s completely possible to feel more than one emotion at a time. The fact that you are disappointed with a negative pregnancy test doesn’t mean you are any less grateful for your friends, family, or all the other wonderful things in your life.
Not Seeking Support
One of the most dangerous things about toxic positivity is this: It can discourage us from seeking emotional support during the very times we need it most! When we feel shamed for our feelings by others, we tend to shut down and not seek help from them again. No one wants to share their darkest feelings if we know that our supposed source of support is going to encourage us to “think happy thoughts!”
Things To Try Instead
Whether you are tempted to scold yourself or others for feeling sad and downtrodden, resist the urge to act as if life is all rainbows and unicorns. Acknowledge your feelings, and let them flow through you. Sit with your grief. Acknowledge when you or a loved one has experienced a loss, even a perceived loss. As painful as it can be, it’s important to acknowledge the possibility of undesirable outcomes.
Possibly the most important part of this process is acknowledging that poor outcomes are a possibility. And, that you can handle whatever comes your way. So much of toxic positivity comes down to a belief that we can’t handle the difficulties that life throws at us!
When you’re supporting others, empathize with them. Let yourself feel the emotions that they are describing. Ask yourself how you would feel in their situation. Avoid jumping straight into encouragement. Let them share their feelings without judgment.
Need a Place to Vent Without Being Told to Think Positive?
Life can seem uncertain, and you aren’t sure where this journey will take you. That’s completely normal. Even though we are generally upbeat and positive at The Integrative Fertility M.D., we understand the road that you are walking during your fertility testing and treatments. We understand the confusion that comes with test results you weren’t expecting.
We empathize with the disappointment you feel when treatments don’t have the outcome you’d been hoping for. Even after pregnancy is achieved, mixed feelings are a normal part of the process! And even in your celebration, you might feel anxious, scared, or ambivalent. It’s okay (and healthy!) to acknowledge these mixed emotions.
If you need a place to turn for support without the toxic positivity, consider The Integrative Fertility M.D. for your fertility consultation, testing, and treatment needs. We are here to help and hold space for you!