Toxic positivity can have a very negative effect on your mental health.
Positivity is one of the most misunderstood concepts in the wellness world.
One of the first things you learn in most self-help circles is that in order to create a positive life, you have to think positive thoughts.
And this attitude is everywhere.
“Look on the bright side!” “Everything happens for a reason,” and “You have a lot to be grateful for,” are just some examples of what you might hear.
But while all of these statements are made with the best intentions, they often cause more harm than good.
Because they don’t tell the whole Truth.
And denying the whole Truth, which includes pain, is called toxic positivity.
When you don’t look at the whole Truth it causes a rift inside of you that leads to suffering.
It keeps you separate from connecting with yourself and others in an authentic way that could actually lead to healing.
But avoiding positivity isn’t the answer, either.
The Truth is that you can feel good and bad at the same time.
You can have a lot of great things in your life, and still feel pain for what has been lost or not yet found.
You can mean well, and still make a mistake.
You can grow from an experience, and it can still suck.
(In fact, the experiences we grow from the most usually suck the most.)
All of this is part of being human.
Toxic positivity is a tricky topic, because training yourself to be more positive IS helpful.
The fact is, the thoughts you think do shape your reality.
Your thoughts are the way you interpret the world.
And they elicit physical reactions in your body that determine the way in which you experience your life. 1
So focusing on the positive can definitely help you feel better.
But what most people misunderstand is that being positive doesn’t mean pretending pain isn’t there when it really is.
Even the most positive people in the world still feel pain.
But when you deny pain, as is the case in toxic positivity, it means you’re judging pain as bad.
And judging leads to more pain, because it keeps you in a state of division.
Judging pain as bad causes a war inside of you.
You’re fighting against reality.
The pain is still there, but because you’re pushing against it the pressure builds up and it ends up hurting more.
And that means you’re not being nearly as positive as you think you are.
In fact, this is the very attitude that keeps you in a state of suffering.
In Truth, being positive is about accepting the fact that you sometimes feel bad.
And when you accept that pain happens, and let it be part of your experience, you start to realize that it isn’t as bad as you thought it was.
You can feel both physical and emotional pain and still not suffer.
But it’s in using toxic positivity to deny pain that you perpetuate your longing, dissatisfaction, feelings of not-good-enoughness, shame, and guilt.
Because by pushing away the unwanted you’re reinforcing the Egoic idea of separation.
And it’s this illusion of separation that is the source of all suffering.
Let’s break this down a little more.
The Ego is the part of you that imagines itself to be a unique identity, separate from the Whole.
It’s the human part of you that identifies itself with the body, your memories, your hopes, fears, likes, dislikes, etc.
The Ego’s entire focus is on making sure that the body survives in the physical plane for as long as possible.
And all thoughts arise in service to this goal.
But because the Ego is limited, it can only use what it already knows.
As a result, every thought you think is just a response to your past conditioning, and can be broken down into 2 categories:
Thoughts that seek to recreate pleasurable experiences and thoughts that try to protect you from repeating the pain you felt in the past.
But since the human experience is never free of pain, it’s literally impossible for you to think positive thoughts all the time.
So when you try to force yourself to think only positive thoughts, you end up thinking negative thoughts about your negative thoughts and find yourself feeling even worse.
Your thoughts are just your Ego’s attempt to protect you.
Any time you experience something new your Ego scrambles to find examples of similar experiences you’ve had in the past, and will send you thoughts about those past situations to try to control the outcome of the future.
Ego is an inextricable part of being human.
And it will keep sending you thoughts and associated feelings so long as you’re identified with this body
But thoughts aren’t the whole truth, and they don’t have to define your experience.
If you believe that you have to think positive thoughts all the time, it means you believe your thoughts are telling the whole truth.
But your thoughts can never tell the whole truth because they are only derived from your past experience.
So when you believe everything you think, you’re basically imagining that your Ego is an omniscient God.
This belief robs you of the freedom to distance yourself from your thoughts and therefore keeps you from having an authentic experience in the present moment.
And just like it won’t help to try to think only positive thoughts, it won’t help to try to push Ego away, either.
Because Ego isn’t good or bad.
Thoughts aren’t good or bad.
They all serve a purpose (your body’s survival).
But if you identify with Ego and believe your thoughts, instead of seeing them for what they are —a tool—then you will inevitably suffer.
You can’t get rid of Ego, and you can’t get rid of your thoughts.
What you can do is choose how you want to use them.
Life is designed for you to realize that the peace, freedom, and joy you were looking for outside of yourself were within you all along.
But while the realization of Wholeness is the ultimate result of Inner Work, if you attempt to trade this “positive” result for your actual life experience, you keep yourself stuck in the illusion of duality.
And it’s this illusion that is the source of the exact pain you’re trying to overcome.
It’s a trick your mind can’t answer, because it is the pursuit of Wholeness that keeps the fantasy that you’re separate from it alive.
And is where the idea of toxic positivity comes from.
Toxic positivity isn’t positivity at all, it’s denial.
It’s what happens when you loudly declare that the painful parts of life are negative.
And it’s in thinking they’re negative that the unwanted arises.
It separates you from seeing that you already are the Wholeness that you seek.
The Ultimate Truth is not positive or negative.
It encompasses the totality of experience, without judgement.
It is only by letting go of the distinctions between positive and negative, good and bad, wanted and unwanted, that you can find the Wholeness that you’re looking for.
When you are able to be fully present with the joyful moments as well as the suffering and meet even the most painful experiences with compassion, without averting your gaze, that’s when you heal.
But when you try to sugar-coat pain with toxic positivity, you end up making what is bitter taste worse.