When being positive is toxic

Vanessa: In truth, we need negative experiences to learn and grow.

“ARE you alright?” she says as she looks at me, her eyes filled with concern.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I reply, the ends of my lips struggling to stay up until I finally manage to crack a smile.

Conversations like this have occurred to me numerous time, and I believe many in society have experienced this as well, which is why I want to draw attention to the culture known as “toxic positivity”.

Toxic positivity is the belief that one should always remain positive no matter the situation. It is the pressure to display only positive emotions and is considered a reasonable social norm.

Some of you might think, isn’t possessing positivity all the time good?

Indeed, society has shaped us to develop a mentality where being amiable and “good” means being constantly positive. This mindset often pushes people to minimise their feelings, disregarding emotions like sadness, anger and guilt.

However, the question is: When is being positive toxic?

People tend to fail to comprehend or accept the fact that we are inherently filled with a spectrum of emotions.

We laugh as joy engulfs us in its embrace, and we cry when it feels as if our hearts were being pierced. These emotions are what set us apart, making us unique.

I cannot seem to recall when I started faking my positivity. Was it when I started preschool?

For me, toxic positivity disguises itself in the most kind-hearted words. Whenever I feel down or am in pain, people constantly tell me to “focus on the positive” and that “everything happens for a reason”.

Phrases like these seem harmless but the more they are uttered, the more helpless I feel. It seems that I do not have any reason or right to dwell in my raw emotions. Moreover, it feels like it is entirely my choice and my fault for letting myself feel down.

Sometimes, when I face my traumas, all I need is a listening ear or an embrace to feel supported.

But during times like this, it is not uncommon to hear feedback like “It could be worse” and “I’ve had worse before”.

Such responses make me feel guilty for expressing negative emotions. I keep thinking to myself: Why am I feeling like this when someone else has had it worse than me?

They make me perceive myself as privileged, minimising all the pain I have gone through and making it seem entirely insignificant.

Hence, I struggle with learning to embrace and acknowledge my negative emotions.

But I am taking steps to try to become comfortable with every emotion and thought that arises, even if many of them lean towards the negative spectrum.

Experiencing negative emotions does not mean immersing ourselves in pain; it means reflecting on ourselves, obtaining a deeper understanding of our minds, and gaining valuable lessons.

It signifies growth and development. In truth, we need negative experiences to learn and grow.

Toxic positivity creates an unrealistic outlook. By imposing a positive outlook on pain, we force individuals to suppress their struggles and conceal their true emotions, thereby increasing their stress levels.

In the midst of facing hardships, I find solace in sitting by my bedroom window and gazing at the sky outside.

I allow myself to feel hurt and let all the tears fall freely down my cheeks. It is in these moments that I reflect on the decisions that led to the issue spiraling into what it has become.

It is the negative emotions that prompt us to acknowledge our flaws, allowing us to not only focus on our positive attributes, but also work on correcting our mistakes.

Positivity by itself isn’t toxic. In fact, there is no actual positivity in toxic positivity. Instead, it is a facade that masks normal, negative emotions. Toxic positivity consists of behaviours falsely labelled as positivity.

Positivity is like the sunshine that greets us in the morning, the scent of flowers in a garden and the rainbow that brightens a dark sky. It is pure and welcoming, offering comfort in its warm embrace.

Listen to what truly resides in you. There is no point in promoting false positivity or asserting moral superiority over others.

Covering genuine emotions with a veneer of positivity will only cause inner turmoil.

Together, let’s liberate ourselves from toxic positivity and normalise feeling and making sense of our emotions.

Vanessa, 18, a student in Negri Sembilan, is a participant of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) team.

For updates on the BRATs programme, go to facebook.com/niebrats.

With the theme of the article in mind, carry out the following English language activities.

1 Write a letter expressing an emotion that you struggle with. Exchange letters with a friend who will respond to your letter. Then, read each other’s responses.

How do you find your friend’s response? Is it helpful in coping with the emotion?

2 Look in today’s newspaper for activities that could help students manage their emotions. Have a show-and-tell with your friends.

The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) programme promotes the use of English language in primary and secondary schools nationwide.

For Star-NiE enquiries, email starnie@thestar.com.my.

Follow us on our official WhatsApp channel for breaking news alerts and key updates!

BRATs , Star-NiE


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