Emotional Agility vs Toxic Positivity

Apr 10, 2023

“Toxic Positivity is forced, false positivity. It may sound innocuous on the surface, but when we share something difficult with someone and they insist that you turn it into a positive, what they are really saying is “my comfort is more important than your reality”
– Dr Susan David

This TED Talk by Dr Susan David is incredibly insightful and highlights the need to STOP denial, distraction and by-passing. Stop deeming emotions as “good or bad”- there are a range of emotions throughout life, both positive and negative and they all need to be felt.

When someone is in emotional pain and we brush their feelings aside we are doing them an awful disservice. Of course there are tools and work we can do on ourselves to change our mindset and create a more authentic positive environment. But we DO NOT do this by dismissing someone’s pain, grief, sadness or whatever other feelings they have. To get into a space for long term growth and change we must first HEAL. We must first address our emotions and feelings. We must unravel whatever trauma and wounds we hold and deal with them. Throwing glitter on a pile of garbage only masks/hides the surface, underneath it is still a pile of garbage. Our emotions and feelings are the same so we need to stop denying them.

Dr David makes it clear this is NOT anti-happiness! When we practise toxic positivity, we lose the skills necessary to truly navigate our feelings. We lose the ability to be able to feel, deal and heal. When emotions are pushed aside, ignored and buried they become stronger and at some point, they will boil over.

We also need to look at our emotional vocabulary. How can we begin to address how we feel- if we cannot actually articulate it? For example- we will often say we are angry. Are we angry? Or are we frustrated, offended, irritated, grumpy, defensive-to name a few? We say we are sad. But what are we actually feeling? Disappointed, disillusioned, tearful, regretful? By drilling down and identifying what it is we actually feel, we can start to deal with it.

Imagine the ability to articulate exactly what it is you are feeling and having someone hold space for you in an open and compassionate way? Someone who listens to hear and understand you, rather than listening to respond with the false/toxic positivity? Let’s be completely honest toxic positivity is just FAKE. There’s nothing authentic or genuine about it and it has become so common in a society that wants to sweep “bad/negative” feelings under the rug and would rather elevate inauthenticity. The positive mantra can be useful from a mindset perspective but only if we first address ALL our feelings with honesty.

I am a glass half full person- I always have been- others may see that glass, half empty but I do always try and see and make the best of a situation. I’ve never been embarrassed or ashamed to be honest about how I feel. I can feel happy, excited, calm, frustrated, sad and even grumpy all in one day! And that’s okay. Anyone who denies they feel a gamut of emotions and sprouts the positivity mantra constantly is lying to and fooling themselves. Remember suppressed feelings and emotions will bite you at some point. The body always keeps the score (there’s another blog that discusses this).

We need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable! Discomfort is the price we need to pay if we want a fulfilling life. I’ve said it many times “nothing ever grows in your comfort zone”.

The video above is powerful, and if you do nothing else today, I recommend you watch it. We need to start living true to ourselves. Not true to society. Not true to family. Not true to friends. But true to US and if we do that everything else will fall into place. We have emotions and feelings for a reason and we need to stop denying them. Stop distracting yourself from feeling them and stop burying them! Rigid denial NEVER works.

“Authenticity requires vulnerability, transparency, honesty and integrity”.