Yes Bad Vibes: Why Toxic Positivity Needs To Go

Yes Bad Vibes: Why Toxic Positivity Needs To Go
I will begin with a disclaimer: yes, I’m a Libra, yes, I like seeing the bright side and being optimistic and fair, yes, I like everyone around me to be happy always. Is that realistic? Not really? Is that healthy? Probably not. Because while we as a society want to convince everyone that things will be okay, sometimes, too much of that can be detrimental. I’m sure we’ve all heard of the phrase ‘toxic positivity’, and as Instagram-therapy-core as it sounds, the concept makes sense.

We try so hard to dismiss the bad, to ignore the negative, to sweep everything under the rug, that we stop paying attention to the mound underneath that very rug that seems to get bigger and bigger. For the uninitiated, toxic positivity refers to the idea of always looking on the bright side, never allowing yourself to feel the negative emotions. Wikipedia describes it as ‘dysfunctional emotional management without the full acknowledgement of negative emotions, particularly anger and sadness’. It can sound like Instagram-approved messages like ‘No Bad Vibes’ or ‘Just Stay Positive’. It can also sound a lot like something WhatsApp aunties, or your father would say: ‘What’s the point of being negative?’ Or ‘Think about the people who have it much worse than you’.

What all of this leads to is a dismissal of feelings of sadness, anger, jealousy, or grief as unimportant or detrimental, when in reality that isn’t the case. Human beings weren’t built to just experience one emotion. Our brains are complex, and they bring with them a complex range of emotions and feelings. Feeling sad or angry is just part of the ups and downs of life, and it is a very important part of the normal human experience. Without moments of grief or anger, we would never be able to appreciate the moments of joy and happiness. We need the bad to be able to appreciate the good.

Additionally, worrying about why you’re feeling bad and fretting about how you absolutely need to remain positive isn’t helping anyone either. If anything, it’s creating a negative feedback loop: you feel sad, and then you begin to get anxious about the fact that you’re sad when you shouldn’t be, which leads to you being anxious about being anxious for being sad and so on and so forth it goes in a maddening loop. The trick is to take a deep breath and tell yourself that it’s okay to be sad, it is a very normal human emotion. If your body needs to cry, then allow yourself to cry, and you will see how much lighter you feel after that release. We really need to normalise our own emotions, because if we don’t normalise our own, then we won’t be able to accept other peoples’ emotions either.

And really, what good is telling anyone to ‘just stay positive’? It comes across as really condescending and insensitive. You have no way of gauging the pain someone is in, and for you to assume that you have the authority to dismiss someone else’s pain is not very supportive. Different people process things differently, and each form of pain is valid in its own way. You don’t need to have lost a limb in war for you to be worthy of sympathy and support: sadness is sadness and pain is pain. One person’s experiences and feelings are not comparable to anyone else’s because everyone has their own set of unique circumstances and contexts.

Perhaps the best way forward is to accept that being sad, or angry or upset or annoyed is normal. And you’re not a flawed human being for not being ridiculously happy every second of everyday. We set our expectations from reality so high, and we stress ourselves out when we inevitably aren’t able to reach them. Because we’re really only human. Let’s try to remember that.

Khadija Muzaffar is the culture editor at The Friday Times. Previously a Fulbright scholar at NYU, she enjoys writing about society, culture, music and food. She tweets at @khadijamuzaffar, but is far more interesting on Instagram.