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Toxic positivity... my arse!

When I first heard the term ‘Toxic Positivity” I experienced a strange energetic reaction. I am a huge advocate of Positivity and fight to encourage more of it within organisations and on the planet. 

To me, it is a superpower that unlocks possibility, attracts talent and creates opportunity, rainbows and unicorns. I couldn’t understand how it could ever be toxic. Toxicity would imply that positivity can cause death or illness to you and others – which seems a tad sensational. 

Digging deeper into it, “Toxic Positivity” is the belief that no matter how bad, we should keep a positive mindset. Hardly toxic – more misguided. My guess is that beneath the attention-grabbing headline; there is a genuine fear that if we don’t become conscious of our mindset then by being predominantly positive we may not engage in the negative emotions we naturally feel whilst living our lives. But that I would describe as unhealthy positivity – not toxic. 

It feels like whoever coined the phrase was annoyed by positive people (which I get as we can be annoying). Negative emotions and a positive mindset are not mutually exclusive.  To be healthy we need both. We need to be able to look for possibility, to see the good in others and to find the learnings when things go wrong as this not only delivers a better quality of life but also robust wellbeing. But it’s vital that whilst doing so we avoid being delusional. 

Not everything in our lives is peachy. We have challenges and traumas and if we don’t authentically embrace them; the emotional disturbance will fight back when we are least expecting it. Emotions are energy and if they aren’t processed they will find their way to the surface in ways that can often be destabilising. You may get angry at someone when they have done nothing to cause it. You may get ill as the emotion eats away at you beneath your consciousness. You may turn to distractions to soothe the emotional discomfort such as alcohol, drugs or triathlons. Emotions need to be felt to be healthy and well. But you can still be positive whilst feeling sad. My 17-year-old daughter was taken into care this year. By far the most traumatic experience of my life. I don’t need to share the details but it was horrible. I have never felt sadder.  

I wouldn’t wish such a time on anyone; feeling so out of control, so helpless is torture. But nothing lasts forever and things do improve. I still feel sad about the difficulties that we have had but I am positive about where we will end up. But for them to improve I found it vital to be properly sad and feel my real feelings – but then also look to the positive so I could have hope.

What helped me process those emotions was Talk It Out. 

I needed a way to get things off my chest and make sense of all the confusing thoughts and feelings. I felt like I was in a vortex, vicious and aggressive. 

I was so angry…. So desperate, so battered and bruised. Talk It Out calmed those winds and helped me get clear on what was next. I then got a choice. I was not in control of the situation but was once again back in control of me. And that was a game changer. Positivity is a superpower – but it needs awareness. 

It cannot override everything else in your life.  Not every day is Disney and we would be delusional to think it was but equally wallowing in misery will only take you down; a place where many can never escape. 

I now understand that sadness can be my friend. It helps me appreciate life more. It makes me more loving to others I share this planet with. It makes me more grateful. It also has added another quality to my creativity. 

My songs tend to be chipper little ditties written for the guitar– but now I have finally written a sad one with keys and strings and guess what……I feel pretty positive about that.

Photo by Tanya Santos on Unsplash