How to Avoid Toxic Positivity: Depth Psychotherapy Insights
The question of how to avoid toxic positivity has a great deal of relevance for our lives. A consciousness of toxic positivity is actually essential for Jungian depth psychotherapy.
What is this thing called “toxic positivity”? And why is it so important to be aware of it?
How Could Positivity Possibly be Toxic?
“Isn’t being positive about your life a good thing?” some may ask. “How could it possibly be toxic to be positive?” And certainly to have an affirming attitude towards life is something that is essential for individuals. Yet, we need to look very closely at the kind of affirmation of our lives that we aspire to have.
Accepting and affirming our lives is a beneficial thing, although it is often more difficult to achieve than we might expect. It is also very different from the kind of “positivity” that simply refuses to face or look at the painful, difficult or uncertain aspects of our lives or our experience. And certainly, some of the popular psychology interpretations of “positivity” have the effect of denying the pain in our lives.
Whitney Goodman speaks very plainly about this:
Positive thinking is often a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. Instead of helping, it leads to emotional suppression, which is destructive to our bodies, minds, relationships, and society.
Whitney Goodman, Toxic Positivity
For real emotional health, it’s essential for us to acknowledge the full range of what we feel. That includes feelings that might easily be labelled as “negative”, like sadness, pain and even the emotions of which we are most wary, such as anger and despair. Unless we can acknowledge these feelings, we are not being honest with our inmost selves.
Messages of Emotional Shutdown
We all know the messages. They’re intended to “help the person not feel so bad” and to “help [him or her] look on the bright side”. Some examples of these “messages of positivity” would be:
- “Don’t cry!” which is easy for us to say when we’re not comfortable with someone, even ourselves, being emotional;
- “It could be worse”, which may be true, but which ignores the reality and pain of what someone is actually experiencing; and,
- “Look at all the good things you have in your life!”, which, again, may well be true, but which ignores the reality of what it is the person is dealing with, which may plain and simply be a bad thing with which they are trying to come to terms.
These are only a few examples of the many ways in which toxic positivity may shut people down. If we are genuinely concerned with how to avoid toxic positivity, we need to look at the full range of ways in which we stop others—and also especially ourselves—from feeling the full range of emotions that make up a human life.
How to Avoid Toxic Positivity on Our Life Journey
In the 1964 film Zorba the Greek Anthony Quinn, who plays Zorba utters the phrase
“the full catastrophe”
to describe the full range of experiences in his life. Joy, sorrow, anger, despair, hope, yearning, grief, loss, exaltation—all are part of the “full catastrophe” that is an entire individual human life.
How do we acknowledge the uniquely precious thing that is one human life, our own, or anyone else’s? It requires that we honour the full range of emotions and feelings that the individual has experienced. It demands acknowledgement that every experience an individual has had is a fundamental building block of their individual story. This includes every life transition, every loss and every sorrow—as well as their greatest joy.
The work of Jungian depth psychotherapy involves the acknowledgement of all of the light in a person’s life, and all of the dark, which Jungians call the shadow. Only then can we appreciate and affirm the uniqueness of our journey, and discover in depth the unique value of who we are, and of the meaning held within our own unique life.
Wishing you every good thing or your personal journey,
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and
Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional
© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario