Forced positive feelings could turn toxic

By Narayani Ganesh

All through the current Covid-19 pandemic, the economic downturn, job losses and pay cuts, deaths and illness, it is being repeatedly dinned into our heads to “always remain positive”. Other common advice are “there’s light at the end of the tunnel”, “what goes down has to go up”, “nothing lasts forever”, “change is the only constant”, “trials and tribulations are what build your character and strengthen you”, and much more.

How is one to react or respond, when you are informed that your pay is slashed and that one should be grateful that one still has a job? Or be told one day that you need to hand in your resignation as the corporation you work for is undertaking cost-cutting measures? Or that your dear friend has just died, a victim of the pandemic? Feel positive about it? That’s hard. Either you have to be an angel, an idiot or a detached sage of sorts who has transcended all dualities to stay unaffected.

How does an average person deal with all the Pollyanna-type teachings, to see good in everything and remain calm and composed, and not feel guilty about feeling down and out sometimes?

Psychologists are currently talking a lot about “toxic positivity” – wherein you are bombarded with so much advice to stay positive even in the most dire circumstances, that forcing yourself to be positive is taking a serious toll on your mental health. That is because you are not being honest about how you feel; you are suppressing all those negative thoughts and feelings and loading yourself with sunny thoughts of a bright future.

Of course, it goes without saying that we do need to cultivate a positive attitude, else we would all go down under with all the serious challenges humanity as a collective is facing today or even you as an individual might be challenged with. What we are now being told is that do not overdo the “be positive” agenda. Sometimes, you need to let your angst, your resentments and your feelings of inadequacy find expression in non-hurtful ways, so that in the process of letting it all out non-violently, you can exorcise yourself of negativity and make room for good thoughts and feelings that elevate and bring hope.

Let’s face it; it is impossible to feel positive about oneself or anything else, 24×7. So there really is no need to feel so guilty about it all. You are human, not a robot that is programmed to display a happy face always. But what is certainly within our power to control is to see that these negative emotions do not manifest in hurtful, violent, more negative ways on self and others.

Before spouting positive aphorisms and giving pep talks, spiritual masters and guides need to indicate ways by which negativities that inevitably surface during harsh times, are allowed to be expressed and exorcised in pacific ways, paving the way for non-toxic positivity to seep in. Positivity that is being forced currently on social media and by some elders, gurus and well-wishers, is in danger of turning into “toxic positivity” that could leave one filled with guilt for feeling negative in the first place. The fear of being branded a negative pessimist could even supersede the fear of death. This needs to be addressed.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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