“Positive Vibes Only”

Graphic by Himanshu Vaidya

The term ‘toxic positivity’ is not new to us. While it contains the word ‘positivity,’ it is evident that this term opposes the entire concept of a stable mental health. Toxic positivity and its intense spokespeople have drowned out real emotions for the sake of sustaining ‘good vibes’. So what does toxic positivity entail? In a nutshell, the invisible toxic positivity movement encourages invalidation of negative feelings and emotions.

What this means is that if you are found exhibiting sadness, fear, anxiety, anger – any emotion that is not happiness – then most people would follow either one of the following consolatory sentences:

  • “Just don’t think about it.”
  • “Look at the bright side.”
  • “Don’t be so negative, be happy.”
  • “Thank God it’s not worse.”

Honestly, I could go on.

These are just a few of the staple toxic positivity lines initiated by those around us. But for now, it is important to know how exactly this redundant use of positivity can affect your relationship to emotions.

How is toxic positivity harmful?

The excessive dependence on positivity damages the way you process your emotions. Feelings are meant to be felt, to be acknowledged, and to be cared for. While it may help to be positive during a few scenarios, the consistent reliance on positivity to take away your pain often comes back to bite you.

Toxic positivity upholds the idea that people should be happy no matter the situation they are in. In doing so, you repress your emotions, discard them, and give them no importance. This leads to an unhealthy relationship with your negative emotions, where expressing these feelings is termed abnormal.

What needs to be understood is that feeling negative emotions and acting on them are completely normal reactions. Like smiling or laughing in joyful situations, it is equally normal and important to cry as well. By some very weird luck, the world has come to a standstill where ‘openly feeling emotions’ needs to be normalised.

Human beings and the idea of being human are based on the fact that we are able to feel different emotions, it is what makes us human. But toxic positivity promotes that negative emotions are ugly; they do not adhere to the cheerful aesthetic popularised by the media, and that is where our problem expands.

Toxic positivity and media

In a time when media dictates culture – be it music, TV shows, films, books, or just the plain Internet – it is not surprising to see that the subtle nudges of toxic positivity are propagated to the masses via the various forms of media. Right off the bat, the largest emotional scam you come face-to-face to, are social media influencers on Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat.

Social media influencers and their happy-go-lucky views on life have made it harder and harder to distinguish between real emotions and online culture-based emotions. With content that does not indicate any hardships they’ve experienced in life, they continue to publicise their lavish lives on the pretext of “just be happy and do what you love, regardless of how you feel.”

While this may seem like an encouraging statement to some – to keep working and working despite the intensity of your emotions – it disarms the audience into not giving importance to feelings they so clearly need to address.

When you’re in pain, rather than numbing it, it is important to acknowledge and validate the pain, and the situation you are in. Unlike what social media urges you to do – repress and move on.

This rhythm of toxic positivity can be accurately understood in the second episode of the newest season of HBO’s Euphoria. Spoiler alert for those who haven’t watched it yet; we see one of the characters, Kat, having to fight for her feelings’ validity with apparitions that keep repeating a tone-deaf statement: “Love yourself!” She is seen bawling her eyes out at the intensity of her self-hatred, but all the advice from the beautiful and confident illusions have left her feeling unheard and invisible, worse than she already feels.

Although greatly exaggerated, I believe the basic idea of that sequence was to establish the subtle fervour with which toxic positivity affects the human mind. As it creeps in and finds a home within your consciousness, it grows with every doubtful thought you produce. It invalidates and suppresses the negative emotions, disallowing you to be familiar with them.

Through forcing you to repress your emotions, toxic positivity strips you of growth and betterment. Repressing and ignoring your emotions only adds fuel to the fire, making it harder to accept as time goes on.

By trying to validate and express negative emotions, you realise that your emotions are worthy of being acknowledged. It is only through recognition and acceptance that you find solace in your feelings. Finding a way out of the darkness is a journey you must map out on your own. Feeling an emotion, acknowledging it and working your way out of it is an important path to pursue. 

Of course, toxic positivity will continue to exist as long as negative emotions and reactions are termed abnormal. To overcome this, do not force happy emotions. Pain and patience go hand-in-hand; it cannot be hurried. Forcing happiness at the first sight of discomfort can be harmful to your mental wellbeing. If you’re not okay, that is completely fine. Sometimes you need to hear the obvious to make progress.

In a day and age that centres itself around repressing emotions to appear cheerful, toxic positivity has sky-rocketed. It has become commonplace to utter a “stop worrying about it” but that only does more damage than good. At the risk of sounding trite, every emotion you feel is valid and deserves to be heard and cared for. Regardless of what your friendly neighbourhood social media influencer tells you, it is okay to be not okay.

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15 thoughts on ““Positive Vibes Only”

  1. Sivaji

    Well articulated, impressive to see the way the young intellect differentiates and illustrates the concept. Relevant contemporary topic. Congrats, keep it up.


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