‘Smiling through the pain’: How toxic positivity can negatively affect your mental health

Can an excess of positivity be negative? Ironically, yes. This type of “positive” over-simplifies how we process emotions and leaves us in an even worse mental state.

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Photo by Sophia Novelo

Many mask their emotions with a drawn on smile, passively listening to others, as well as themselves, invalidate their feelings.

“I think of it as a mask. Kind of like you’re forcing yourself to be something you’re not, and that is mentally draining because you have to keep up an act. It feels fake, like a facade,””

— Sophomore Hailey Cruz

We are several months into a pandemic and our circumstances have certainly not been ideal. In fact, you can sum up this year as being an absolute dumpster fire. And that’s a very reasonable way to frame it. It’s okay to be negative and it’s totally okay to not feel okay. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost nationally to COVID-19, and many have lost their jobs, leaving them without enough financial support to get them through this difficult time. And we all know how the transition to remote learning has been going for us. As well as tragedy, political turmoil has been overwhelming the media while we are isolated from friends and family in hopes to contain the virus. It has been quite difficult navigating this new world, and invalidating your experiences and feelings by just faking a smile or trying to maintain those ‘positive vibes’ can be detrimental to your mental well-being.
“I think of it as a mask. Kind of like you’re forcing yourself to be something you’re not, and that is mentally draining because you have to keep up an act. It feels fake, like a facade,” Sophomore Hailey Cruz said.
The avoidance and suppression of emotional discomfort is what’s known as toxic positivity. Not only does it stifle your reactions to concerning scenarios much like this pandemic, it distracts you from what is bothering you. This eventually leads to a lack of self-compassion, the worsening of your mental state, and can even make you distant to what you really feel. A forced positive ‘outlook’ is a strategy that, unfortunately, does more harm than good.
“I experience toxic positivity quite often. I always try to stay positive because it is good to have that energy when around others, but the thoughts that go on in my head are sometimes different to what I portray,” Sophomore Isabella Siqueira said.
Those who might be wondering: “Isn’t it good to be distracted from what hurts you?” Yes, but actually, no. Sure, it’s wonderful to find something that takes your mind off of the problem, but ignorance isn’t always bliss. Eventually, you are going to have to fix that problem. Toxic positivity makes it so that you completely ignore the issue and pretend that everything is alright, and, according to an article from Healthline, not being able to properly process emotions at the appropriate time can lead to increased anxiety, depression, as well as forms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.)
“Being honest helps you gain other peoples trust. Personally I would rather have someone be honest with me and express their true emotions instead of boiling them up inside, which can later take a toll on their mental health,” Siqueira continued.
Over this past year, things have definitely been rough, and it has been especially difficult to find silver linings to our circumstances. You can’t force yourself to find the positive though. That outlook should come naturally and forcing yourself to be happy can create greater mental health concerns. Genuine positivity should be found within yourself, and not a manufactured act from a need to be seen or feel happy. Allowing yourself to process emotions naturally and not suppressing any negative feelings will show genuine improvement in your mental health. Being sad or angry should not be an anomaly, so why act like it? Make sure to take time for yourself and understand that your feelings are valid.