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Toxic Positivity

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Toxic positivity means, as stated, remaining positive regardless of how bad the times are for someone. Another way of looking at it is a lack of empathy. Why do you need to know about this, because you are sure to run into someone who is positivity toxic? Yes, there are all forms of toxicity, but this form can be the most damaging for your morale and mental health. It can “say” your pain, upset, and anguish with your child’s diagnosis is not valid. The first thing to know is how to recognize it so you can avoid it, say stop, or nod your head in agreement while thinking about other things.

Some people either cannot handle connecting to others’ trauma, two have no idea what they are doing, or three have zero empathy. If they were in your situation, they would probably either get upset with that returned behavior or welcome it because they cope with trauma in a ‘happy’ manner. If that is their coping style, that is fine. If it is not yours, then it is not okay. I admire people who have that outlook, but I am just not one of them. That does not mean I sit and think of only the negative things in life; it just means that I do not look at everything trauma-related with a positive attitude; instead, I have hope. What is toxic positivity then if it is not laughing uncomfortably or being extremely happy?

Has anyone ever said to you, “well, at least you are close to the good hospitals,” or “at least you are in the United States, if you were in a third world country, your child would not have a chance”? That is toxic positivity, utterly irrelevant to the pain you are feeling, and zero empathy. RUN! That’s my advice, if not mentally run, then physically. Another example is “just stay positive.” That statement might seem relatively normal or showing sympathy, but mentally it is completely undermining any feelings you have, remaining positive is not holding on to hope. Hope is entirely different. Hope is the desired outcome, wanting it, and sometimes even believing in it. Toxic positivity is the idea that you cannot just hope; you have to avoid your feelings and see the ‘bright side.’ My favorite, or least favorite, part of toxic positivity is when someone says, “happiness is a choice.” I am going into Social Work, and no, actually, it is not a choice. Some people have clinical depression or other things that hinder their ability to be ‘happy.’ While laughing does create chemical changes in our brains, it does not cure depression or sadness. Another way you are likely to see it in the cancer community is through “everything happens for a reason.”

When someone, such as yourself, is in a delicate situation, you need to surround yourself with caring, empathetic individuals. Empathy is not I, me, or my it is all about you. You are the one in pain. Empathizing with someone should not be about anyone but yourself. Sympathy is not empathy. Sympathy is a good thing, but empathy is even better for your mental health. What’s the difference? The best way I can explain it is through example, sympathy is, “I am sorry for you” and “that sucks.” Empathy is, “I understand,” silence, and listening. Essentially, empathy is sharing the pain and helping, while sympathy is just sort of a back seat approach in a compassionate way. For me, the most empathic experiences I had was the friend that forced me to come to her house for self-care and the other that just held me while I was crying. There are many others, but those stand out at the moment. While I received a lot of sympathy and appreciated it, and still do, empathic individuals had more of a positive impact on my mental status at that point in my journey. I will leave you with this, stay away from toxic positivity and remain close to those that provide empathy first and sympathy second. You will thank yourself in the end. And do not be afraid to say stop, it’s like a muscle and hard to do, but you will get used to it, I promise.