Mrs Brightside – the dangers of toxic positivity

Lately I have been reading a lot of stuff online and on social media which, I am sure, with best intentions, tells people to just lighten up and to get over themselves. There is advice of “making the best out of every situation”, “seizing every new day as a new opportunity” and “looking for the positives” because every situation will have a dust of gold for us, as long as we look hard enough for it. People tell others to stop complaining, to stop whining, to stop dreading certain days and situations. Because, you know, nothing is that bad. Clean up your act, woman up, grow a pair, think positive, change your mindset! It’s so fucking simple! What the fuck is wrong with you?!?

Well, bugger me, dear social media warrior turned expert of all walks of life! I had no idea it was that easy! I just have to think differently! That’s where I have been going wrong all my life. Damn it! Why didn’t I think of that before? Change your thought process. Rewire that brain! Simples! I wish I had had that valuable brain wave when, aged 8, my sister was ripped from me, just a year after my cousin died of suicide. So easy. Should have looked on the bright side. Somewhere, there was clearly something positive hidden. I obviously didn’t look hard enough. And my cousin, well, he clearly had no clue either. Silly boy. Lighten up young man!

I am sure all those people with anxiety and mental health issues couldn’t wait for some bright spark to tell them this easy trick. “Change your mindset, dumbass!” That easy! Fabulous! We are all cured!
The thing is, such comments, also coined “toxic positivity”, as thoughtless and therefore meaningless they really are, can actually do a lot of damage. They devalue people’s experiences and feelings. Sure, some people do love a bit of drama and tend to fear the worst, but who are we to judge that their feelings don’t mean anything? Believe you me, when I was in a job where I got bullied and was exhausted and couldn’t see the wood for the trees, I tried harder than ever before to stay focused, positive and to learn as much as I could from that situation. I was still fucking miserable though and hated every morning when I drove to work, and cried most evenings on the way home. My mind was always hopeful. But it was also bloody miserable. And no, I couldn’t just hand in my notice and walk. I had and still have responsibilities, two young kids (back then a 6 month old baby and a 3 year old) and their dad who all depended on me financially. I lose my job, or I walk and I can’t keep a roof over our head. But yeah, lighten up woman, don’t make such a fuss. 

A few weeks ago a young kid told me, sobbing their heart out, that they missed their grandparent so much. They’d  lost them to cancer. On top of that, they felt unloved, unwanted and totally out of place. Do you think I told the kid to “seek the positives” and “change their mindset”? Of course I didn’t! I was honest with them. I told them that we can do hard things (thanks Glennon Doyle) and that things would, one day, get easier. They asked me if I could promise that. I denied. No, I couldn’t promise that. Most likely, they would always miss their grandparent and I also had no recipe for a tough time at school. But I told the kid I was here for them. They weren’t alone. 

Compassion and empathy are, so it seems at times, rarities in our society that hides behind a screen and a keyboard. We mustn’t forget that everyone is fighting a battle, everyone is carrying some baggage. For some of us, most days are fine. For others, most days are a total struggle. For example, I admit that most days are really tough for me. The demands from my kids, from life, from my jobs, my self employment, the demands of myself and my vision of what I should do next all lie heavily on my shoulders. I have so many responsibilities, it sometimes takes my breath away. So no, life is not a walk in the park where I jump out of bed every morning and go skipping around, actively looking for the positives. Most days I don’t have time to think. I just do and jump from one thing to the next, because that is reality as a parent, a woman working two jobs, a mature student, a partner, an adult with lots of financial obligations. 

So next time you feel judgemental, think again. Next time you want to tell someone to “always look on the bright side of life”, have some consideration. If your life is like that, how amazing! I am really, genuinely happy for you. But it’s not reality for many people. So don’t sit on your high horse and tell us how to snap out of it. There is always much more to it. 

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