Positivity- when does it become toxic?

I’ve been thinking a lot of late about politics, business and the self. I’ve looked at how having a positive can-do attitude is promoted, often encroaching in all aspects of life and how you interact with people. You don’t want to be the “Debbie Downer” amongst your friends for fear they wont want to hang out with you for taking away their “positive vibes only” attitude. I’ve experienced it at work when you can’t see a business idea working, but people still push with it to make the client happy. In those cases, I’ll explain my reservations to my clients because I owe it to them, but this has gotten me in trouble with my own bosses as a result. It’s so evident in the current political climate that I don’t have the room in this post to go into it, but it seems, to me at least, that by pushing ahead, the fallacy of all will be well is promoted.

I have a problem with this. I find that a constant positive outlook that’s expected of people in the modern western culture leads to more problems. Don’t get me wrong, I am somehow an optimist, but let’s at least not pretend that everything is fine. Let’s look at the situation at hand and work out the best possible outcome to create an action plan. Be an optimist by all account and look at the bright side. With the positive vibes only movement, I feel it leads to people being invalidated for their own experiences. There are so many self-help books that promote the idea that “you are in control of your destiny”, “you can manifest your desires by thinking hard enough”, “the universe delivers” and my personal peeve “the bad things happen because of a negative outlook”. What all of these do is put blame on the individual for much larger issues that affect society.

I gobbled up Bob Proctor, I enjoyed The Secret, How to win friends & influence people, Think & grow rich etc- the list is endless. This is a global industry that in 2019 was valued at $38.3billion, with a projected annual growth of +5% until 2027. This is through books, personal training, coaching, workshops and seminars. These ideas have had such a powerful impact on my life and more importantly, they provided strength to those lost. I love that they help people to think differently, look at the world and focus on the impact that they can have. I hate that they also promote the idea that everything is your own doing, when in reality, there will be times that you will have absolutely no control of anything but your own self.

So, this is where I now talk about authenticity and the polished self. The two don’t have to be separate or immutable, but it is something that is recommended within the work force, social circles, public spaces and more. We are all allowed* separate ideas and lifestyles, as long as we can keep them distanced from those that would be uncomfortable knowing them. Once in a while you can stir the pot and it’s seen as a quirk, but do it more often and it’s seen as problematic to the status quo. Of course part of socialisation is formed by interacting with people. We all need each other, that’s what makes us human (I’m still in awe that they let just about anyone create their own website- even me! The fools!), allows society to exist and progress from the learnings of those who have gone before us. However, conformity in our age, with so much knowledge at our fingertips has led to many more questions about those that govern us, companies, ethics, climate, religion, politics and the self.

Before, it was easier to maintain a separate identity, but with interconnectedness and the internet, this has become harder. It’s practically unheard of for people not to have an online presence whether they wish it or not. Whereas before, there was a separation, now, everything is documented and easily found. A simple idea can be twisted beyond the intended. From a young age, you have to curate your image, your digital footprint, how you’re perceived, more so now than in any other time in history. Once something is online, it’s there forever to those intent on finding your secrets. With that knowledge, of course you want to promote positivity. Of course you want to show how productive you can be. In the age of digital reach and followers as currency, there is little space for authenticity, when you have to think of yourself as a brand. That brand is pushing a better life based on a positive outlook whilst ignoring reality in most cases.

There is so much make believe pushed upon us. With all the scientific technical advances, I’m at a loss that people reject factual, evidence based information presented. MLM’s have thrived because of the positive thinking movement when in reality, their pyramid schemes take those willing to believe into more debt than they started out with. These unethical companies pray on hope, the notion that “everything will be good if you really want it” and lead individuals to accept that it’s their fault for their lack of success rather than circumstance.

Toxic positivity, to me, is the push that we are all the leaders of our destiny and that outside influence has nothing to do with outcome. Toxic positivity to me ignores the greater inequalities and places everything negative that has ever happened on the individual. Life becomes a blame game of wishful thinking and wistful ideas in which you’re the centre of the universe. That of course is a beautiful dream, it lays into our most basic needs and dismisses further growth. It allows us to stay in our infantile toddler or even teenage stage where we are determined to make the world bend to our wants rather than understand it.

That is so dangerous & damaging!

It denies you of being authentic, honest and questioning as you try to comprehend life. It steals your own mind, you’re ability to formulate ideas and take in the information presented to you. Why? Because the outcome of whatever you’re going through has to be positive. You are given an answer and it then becomes your burden to come up with the equation that will satisfy the given conclusion. That conclusion- the positive learning you can take and push onto others. You got mugged, well now you take self defence classes and deep down this action happened because you had a negative thought.

When all outcomes and actions are blamed on the individual, there is no need for others to change. It’s the same comfort blanket that’s pushed on rape survivors (well they were asking for it because they were drunk, showed skin, had a gender, existed) because it’s easier to blame a victim than change an institution. It’s easier to blame all of the bad things that happen in life on oneself because that provides a semblance of control. At least here, with this notion, you have some mastery of your own destiny- there is some control.

It’s an illusion. Control within the positive thinking movement (I’d love to be shown otherwise btw) is the notion that you can think yourself into a dream. That the fairy tales will come true, that your manifested desires will just happen without the hard work, invested time and many slip ups because you thought and wished it.

There are always exceptions, but everyone who has ever had continuous success has done so on the back of their own effort, research, sweat, tears, failures, self-doubt and with the understanding that each mishap provides the perfect excuse to give up.

And here lies the optimism. I expect to fail many times, and so will you, but I also know I’ll succeed. You didn’t just wake up and could walk, you spent a long time falling over. Anything that promotes wealth without the effort is a scam. No amount of positive thinking will create the luck you need if you aren’t going to work hard for it…and even then, you might not succeed.

However, knowing the facts and steps people take, the realities of everyday life, you can learn & not make the same mistakes.

A toast from me to you! Lets be realistic optimists and work hard in an attempt to achieve our dreams!

2 thoughts on “Positivity- when does it become toxic?

Add yours

  1. I love the term realistic optimist! I consumed those same self-help and positivity books in my teens and early twenties. While helpful in many ways, I agree that it almost sets the unrealistic expectation that we are personally responsible for ensuring our lives are always perfect and polish… with time, I’ve found that contentment with “good enough” is more fulfilling, achievable, and simply realistic. Great post!


  2. I agree that sometimes we’re being unreasonable already.. and that is where the stress comes from. It’s hard to be content with all the stuff that we see on social media. Even when it’s fake, people still buy it! We really need to stay real 🙂


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