Always (trying to be) looking at the bright side of life can be more than helpful during everyday inconveniences, just like having to deal with annoying people (just try to count the seconds until they are gone, which can be very entertaining and motivating). At least trying to stay positive and hopeful, motivates a lot of people to keep going. Looking forward to better times. Therefore, positivity can work as a great coping mechanism
But this doesn’t mean that everything must always be 100% rainbow-glitter-perfect. It is normal, and also very healthy, to be in a bad mood from time to time. The challenge is to never be negative towards people who have nothing to do with your state of mood, and to not get caught up in having a bad day, or even bad days. If this is the case though, it is normal and more than okay to not have a positive attitude or mindset. During those times, friends and family often try to cheer the person in question up, for example by showing them positive aspects about the thing they are upset about. However, what is meant as a helpful gesture, can turn into something very annoying, or sometimes even dangerous. This is the so-called toxic positivity.
The Clinical Health Psychologist Natalie Dattilo compared positivity and its toxic over-exaggeration with scoops of ice cream. Most of the time, and for most people, having ice cream is a great thing. If someone helps you to get more ice cream, after you have communicated your cravings for it, it is very likely that you’d be grateful to this person. However, if you´re not in the mood for sweets, and a person is trying to put ice cream in your mouth without asking you, it is very likely that you’d not be too grateful to this person.
Of course, shoving ice cream into someone's face is not a dangerous thing. But toxic positivity can be dangerous when it starts to be the go-to coping mechanism of the person. Or when the person is pushed by other people to keep a positive mindset and attitude.
Toxic positivity can lead too far, that ill people are motivated by their social environment to look at the bright side and to see the positive aspect in their disease. Other people go so far that they are “blaming” the patients, stating their illness is their own fault, rooting in negative thoughts and a negative attitude towards themselves and their body.
Without question, positive thoughts can help a patient to feel mentally better and to draw more or new strength from it. However, positive thoughts do not have any scientifically proven effects on the medical course of a disease. Meaning, the disease does not magically disappear with positive thoughts, nor return as soon as a person has negative thoughts again. Moreover, feeling pressured into maintaining a positive attitude towards everything and everyone at all times, can put a lot of stress and pressure on the person in question and it can inhibit a healthy relationship within themselves, but also towards their social environment.
So, please don’t get me wrong, positivity is a wonderful (coping-)mechanism and the world offers several reasons to be grateful and happy for, but it is totally okay and perfectly normal to not always feel good!
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