What does ‘Toxic Positivity’ mean and how can it affect your grief?
‘Toxic Positivity’ is a term a lot of us will have heard recently, and is mainly used online on social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter. There are a lot of questions surrounding what toxic positivity actually is, how it is separated from normal and healthy positivity.
What actually is toxic positivity?
The term ‘toxic positivity’ isn’t an official, psychological or academic term. However, it has been well established and universally understood that it is the concept of promoting positivity, no matter the circumstances. Toxic positivity promotes remaining positive, happy or optimistic, despite everything going on in somebody’s life.
Many people grieving will have probably heard some toxic positivity, such as ‘stay positive,’ ‘focus on the good,’ or ‘look on the bright side!’ Although these statements are probably said with the best intentions, they can be extremely harmful, especially for someone who is grieving.
How can toxic positivity impact someone’s grief?
When people promoting toxic positivity talk of grief, they often twist it into a taboo, or even dirty, word. People who promote toxic positivity have one goal, and that is to make someone feel ‘normal’ and ‘positive’ again. This is completely unreasonable and should never be expected of anyone, let alone someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one. Toxic positivity promotes the idea that ‘life is great,’ but this is a contradictory statement if you have just lost a significant person in your life and can be extremely difficult to hear, let alone tell yourself. Life will not feel ‘great’ when you have just lost someone close to you. In fact, life can feel the opposite of great and you can feel despair. The last thing you need is someone constantly telling you that ‘life is great.’
So, can you be positive in grief?
We have learnt a lot about toxic positivity, but another important lesson is this: not all positivity is going to be toxic. You can still have elements of positivity in your life, despite grieving. If anything, experiencing grief gives you a whole new view on life. You will have experienced something life shattering and heart breaking, but you will get to a point where you know that there is still joy in the world, and you can find meaning in your life again. It might not happen right away, but every day, healthy positivity will gradually reintroduce itself into a griever’s life, without them necessarily even realising it. Positivity doesn’t have to be about avoiding our problems, but acknowledging them, feeling them and continuing to live despite them.
One of the wonderful things about being human, is that we feel emotion. Although this can sometimes feel like a curse, especially when dealing with grief, it is these emotions that make life so valuable. Yes, it is important to be positive on occasion, but it is wrong for people to expect positivity all day, every day. The ‘feel good’ attitude can be great, when it is what your head and your heart need. When experiencing grief, it is so important to learn that all emotions are valid. No two people are going to grieve in the same way, and no two people need the same support. However, there is support available, should someone need it. The NHS mental health directory is full of helplines, websites and information, if you think you, or someone you know, might need support.