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Toxic Positivity During the Pandemic

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  Al:  In a year with lots of bad news, social unrest, and economic uncertainty, the pressure to be positive is widespread. Joining me is Mihaela Vincze, public health expert for nonprofit Transamerica Institute here to discuss how this compulsion to be positive can become toxic.

Al: Thanks for joining me.
Mihaela: Thank you for having me.

Al: So, how does something like positivity become toxic?
Mihaela: According to Healthline, toxic positivity is the concept that keeping exclusively positive is the way to live a fulfilled life. It is unrealistic to expect to feel happy all the time and this standard can make us feel even worse because it forces us to repress difficult emotions. By not processing these emotions, we end up prolonging them.

Al: There is nothing positive about that! How does toxic positivity come to light now, during the pandemic, rather than before?

Mihaela: The pandemic has induced some serious struggles, such as mental health issues, loneliness, or financial uncertainty, just to name a few. Yet we are constantly reminding ourselves and others to just “stay positive” or “be grateful it’s not worse.” While these messages might be well-intended, they can make us feel as though our negative emotions are invalid. 

Al: How is toxic positivity harmful?
Mihaela: With toxic positivity, negative emotions are construed to be “bad” and avoided at all costs. Instead, positivity is pushed, and real human emotional experiences are set aside or completely rejected. This can make people feel as if their emotional state is unacceptable, and this can be damaging towards someone’s mental health.

Al: So, how do you deal with toxic positivity?
Mihaela: There are a few ways. Acknowledge how you feel, the good and the bad, and really sit with those emotions. It is okay to not be okay, in fact, it is normal. By repressing our true emotions, we prolong the discomfort. A good strategy to counter this is to express yourself, through either talking or writing, as this will not only help you feel better, but it will also help you become more emotionally resilient.

Al: For those wondering, how can well-intentioned individuals prevent toxic positivity?
Mihaela: Remember, what makes positivity toxic is that it dismisses authentic emotions. Instead of saying “don’t worry you’ll get through it” or “just be positive,” try saying something like “that sounds really difficult, I’m sorry you’re experiencing that.” This will make people feel heard and supported, as opposed to disregarded and forced to have a positive outlook.

Al: Any final thoughts you want to share with the listeners?
Mihaela: Forcing positivity on yourself and others is not going to achieve the intended outcome, that is, feeling better. So, instead of spreading toxic positivity, we should try to spread support and validation.   

Al: Thank you again for joining us, Mihaela.
Mihaela: Thank you for having me!

Al: This has been another episode of ClearPath Radio – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth. I’m your host Al Waller – thanks for listening.

Al Waller is a long time native of the Baltimore area. He entered the field of Human Resources Management starting as an HR Generalist with PwC (Pricewaterhouse-Coopers). This marked the beginning of a 30 year career that advanced into the management level for locally and globally based corporations. His primary area of expertise has focused on but not limited to: Talent Acquisition /Retention, Employee Relations as well as Training & Development.