From personal connection to the consumption of entertainment, social media has become paramount to our everyday lives. It gives us the opportunity to cultivate our own digital environments and echo chambers of public opinion. This is achieved through the interaction with people all over the world in 280 characters or less.
However, it can be difficult not to envy the seemingly perfect lives of an influencer seen through the lens of their Instagram feed. We believe that if we too can just adopt their ‘boss babe’ mentality and ‘good vibes only’ mindset, we can be as successful and beautiful as they are.
The onslaught of perfection begs the question – is there such a thing as too much positivity on social media?
What is toxic positivity?
Toxic positivity is the repression of emotions in order to focus solely on the positive aspects of your life, thus denying the oneself entire spectrum of human emotion.
It follows the belief that having an overwhelmingly positive outlook on everything is the only way to live. In turn, this posits that having negative emotions is both wrong and unwarranted, regardless of the individual situation.
Some examples of toxic positivity:
- Being told that no matter what your situation is, someone else will always have it worse than you, and you should be grateful for what you do have
- The assumption that if you have proposed markers of success, like a job and a partner, that you couldn’t possibly have any problems and shouldn’t be negative
- Being told when had a bad day at work that ‘at least you have a job’
- Being told that if you have a difficult pregnancy, you are told ‘at least you can have children, many people can’t’ and to be appreciative
Being positive is not a bad thing. In fact, Dr Eric Kim, a research fellow in the Department of Social and Behavioural Sciences at Harvard, explains that optimism and a positive outlook on life has been shown to be associated with healthier behaviours and healthier ways of coping with life challenges.
In the right situation, positivity can be beneficial to you – but toxic positivity is not real positivity. Not everything in life is positive. Bad things happen, everywhere, to everyone, and it is not always necessary or appropriate to ‘stay positive’ or ‘look on the bright side’.
How does social media perpetuate this?
Social media is a digital utopia. People who post about their lives tend to only showcase the good, breeding the common misperception about life that exacerbate mental and emotional suffering – that we “should” be happy. It creates the illusion that other people are happy all the time, that you must be doing something wrong because you are not the same.
Platforms such as Instagram are particularly susceptible to toxic positivity. This is due to its nature as a photo sharing space. It is ultimately centred around cultivating the perfect aesthetic based on the images, captions, and ultimate ‘vibe’ of each individual page. It’s about image, as social media is the way you present yourself to the world.
It can be daunting to let people in. Instead of being honest, authentic feelings are often publicly deflected to avoid criticism or unwarranted input.
This has made it seem that it has become taboo to be authentic on social media. Honesty on social media can often be seen as attention seeking. People may feel like it is overly negative to discuss your struggles on the platform, even suggesting that it is the incorrect place to do so.
How can this affect your mental health?
Comments and statements of toxic positivity, either directed at you or in passing, create guilt and shame in people for feeling any negative emotion. This can negatively affect your mental health as it is an invalidating experience predicated on ignorance.
Guilting people for feeling negative emotions is unhelpful and detrimental as it dissuades them from connecting with their emotions or working through them in a healthy manner. Instead, they are encouraged to push them away (despite it being a completely natural occurrence). This allows the feelings to fester and become worse with time.
So, how can I combat toxic positivity?
It is crucial to remember that everything is relative. No two people are the same – people feel things and process emotions differently, and that is natural. It’s not weak to have a bad day or a negative feeling and it’s okay to feel things.
Human emotions are complex, and studies show that an average adult person feels an emotion at least three or four times a day. This means that you aren’t complaining for complaints sake, but rather that it is just not normal to only be happy and positive all of the time – that would be exhausting!
Talk to people you trust and open that line of dialogue. Be it with a trusted friend, family member, or an impartial party, like a therapist. Get in touch with your emotions and allow yourself to feel them, no matter what they are.
And remember, things and people that make you feel guilty, ashamed, or bad about yourself are not worth interacting with! Just unfollow or block them! Protect your space and know that your social media is your own. It should be used and cultivated in a way you feel comfortable with.