The Negative Effects of Positivity
Updated: Oct 27
"Look on the bright side."
"It could be worse."
"At least you have your (fill in the blank) ."
I don't know about you, but for me, these statements are almost never helpful. The very well-meaning people who speak them, are usually coming from a place of love, simply wanting those around them to be happy or see the silver lining in a situation.
Good Intentions, Toxic Positivity
Did you know that there have been lots of studies on the effects of "toxic positivity"? There are some studies specifically focused on toxic positivity during the pandemic, others that looked at the ways positive statements can be uplifting for some and damaging for others, and even some on how our self-esteem can be negatively effected by positive affirmations.
This is the one I find most fascinating... A study by Joanne V. Wood, W.Q. Elaine Perunovic, and John W. Lee done in 2009 found that positive self-statements caused those with low self-esteems to feel even worse about themselves. These positive affirmations
It turns out that if you aren't in alignment with what you are saying to yourself in offering care or with what someone else it saying to a painful part of you, your body recognizes the untruth, and you cause more harm than healing.
I think there are a few things going on...
Our Collective Struggle With Emotion...
It's not a bad thing to want someone to be happy... and honestly if those positive phrases from above were spoken at the end of a larger conversation where one was truly heard, seen, and all of their feelings validated, these words might not have the negative impact that they do when they are offered as the first conclusion we're meant to jump to.
In my experience, these positive words are most often spoken by those who truly don't know how to handle emotion, their own or anyone else's. The full range of our emotions is deeply uncomfortable to so many and is truly terrifying to so many more. From sadness and grief, to worry and frustration, to rage and resentment... when you don't know what to do with these emotions yourself, it's little wonder that they inspire a knee-jerk reaction to "get happy" fast in others.
Our Collective Struggle With Honoring the Feminine...
This reaction to emotion is really common in a world where feelings and sensitivities, associated with the feminine aspects of ourselves... are often seen as weak, childish, not appropriate for all times and places (especially the workplace), or simply mystifying and illusive.
Our society would rather we leave our emotions at home when we come out to interact with the world, but our emotions are as much a part of our human experiences as our thoughts, our ideas, and our desires. They also play a major factor in of our health.
We haven't been trained in our world to honor every aspect of our emotional lives. I truly believe that this is where one of the biggest learning curves and the deepest needs exists in our society... to honor the feminine aspects of ourselves and become whole, from the inside out.
Validating Our Emotions...
Our emotions are part of such a beautiful and elegant communication system from our bodies. When that form of communication isn't understood or allowed to live it's full truth, it can cause damage to our systems.
Our emotions are meant to be fully felt, listened to, and honored, so they can move through our bodies... they aren't meant to stay for prolonged periods of time, stored and stuck and building as time goes on. Stored or recurring emotion is a clear sign that something within us is calling to be healed.
When our emotions aren't validated (by ourselves... and it helps if it's also by those around us), they can't fully process out of our systems. It's the equivalent of closing the damper on a fireplace. The smoke has nowhere to go but back into the room, eventually effecting the whole house.
The Truth of it All
The real answer to the question of getting happy... is to be truthful with yourself and allow others to be just as truthful with themselves about everything they feel. That means honoring every single berating comment you have about yourself... every single frustration... every single layer of emotion... deeper and deeper, until you find yourself at the core... the whole reason for the emotions you're feeling... and honoring this space, too.
This utter honesty bridges the gap between what we feel and what we want to feel. When we allow what we feel to be true, something truly magical happens. We begin to release the feeling, and in that space, we can naturally feel... happy, peaceful, free, safe, well... we can feel whole.
I see this everyday in my practice, whether it's tapping or energy work, the truth of the experience needs to be honored in order for healing to happen.
Bypassing the Issue
I've had the question asked of me, "can we just tap on the positive statements today?" If you do any work with me at all, you know the answer is probably going to be something like, "let's see what emotions you're feeling, and let them be heard first... we can end with the positive tapping."
You see, if we jump too quickly to the positive in tapping, nothing shifts, healing can't happen... it's a bandaid for a broken bone.
Getting to the bottom of an issue is the only sure way I know to heal it. It's the reason that positive affirmations don't work for folks with really low self-esteem... the words aren't right. It's too far a reach... there's no bridge to the truth. It simply sounds like a flat out lie... to say something like "I am a lovable person" if you don't believe a word of it. You just think of all the ways you're not.
Bridging the Gap
What if instead, you meet yourself where you are?
If you acknowledged that you don't feel like a lovable person...
that you've never felt truly lovable...
and that you can't even love yourself...
and then begin to let yourself experience the origin of the feeling...
and bring in compassion for the way you feel, without trying to change it...
healing the true core of the issue can finally happen.
This is the way to bridge the gap between where you are, and where you wish to be.
Where Positivity Helps Us Heal
And then, it's time for the positive affirmations...
the knowing you're worthy of love,
that your are a unique and beautiful individual,
that you are brave,
and that you choose to love you,
to love yourself better than anyone else has ever loved you.
You see, there is absolutely a time and a space for positivity, it just isn't the answer to every question or the immediate need of every person in pain.
Positivity isn't what you need when you hurt... it's what you need when you can see the other side of the pain, when you see the light at the end of the tunnel... it's the hope that has the power to usher you into a new dawn, to dream a new dream, to understand a brand new truth.
It has the power to change everything... when you already have the capacity to believe in the change and the ability to see the possibility of the new...
Becoming Emotionally Intelligent
I believe we'll get there... we'll get to a place as a society where we know how to love each other, how to comfort one another, and how to help each other heal. It begins with listening... use those good intentions to bring happiness and joy, to your practice of truly hearing yourself and those around you... just listen and let all of the inner truths be known.
Do you have some emotional processing to do? You can book your session with me here.
Angela Hed Vincent (she/her), owner of True You Tapping, is an EFT Master and Energy Medicine Practitioner for people at their emotional and spiritual breaking point.
She helps her clients honor and release the emotional traumas of their past, using their biggest challenges as catalysts for transformation, so they can more fully embody the truth of who they are, even in they don't truly know the cause of their issue.
Angela introduces something new to the world of healing and transformation. She has developed a unique approach to burnout recovery and intuitive development, and continues to create innovative programs to help people find their balance in various aspects of life.