Many people can complete the adage that “every cloud has a silver lining.” This translates to the notion that while we all experience dark times within the sunny days of our lives, there are often good experiences and unexpected blessings tucked within those very places that seemed to have rained on our proverbial parades.
It is a good practice to recognize the positive and the upside to difficulty. It helps to foster resilience when we cultivate a place of gratitude within those spaces that are extraordinarily painful. It builds hope for a new day when we may anticipate a turnaround and a shift, not only within ourselves but also within the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
While it is helpful to have a positive outlook in life, it may also be viewed as biblical, in the sense that we are to develop an attitude of thankfulness in and through our life circumstances. That doesn’t mean the same as giving thanks for everything, though.
God designed us to experience all emotions which include a chance to connect with feelings that don’t seem positive at all. The entire premise of our faith journey begins with acknowledging our sin so that we surrender ourselves through Christ as the answer to our broken condition.
So, where have we gathered this notion that we are to remain positive, toxically positive, at all costs? In many faith circles, emotions are improperly labeled as “bad,” or ungodly, as if they cancel our faith; but this is contrary to scripture. We are made in the image of a Father and God who experiences diverse emotions. His word reveals His delight, pleasure, wrath, and grief, among others.
The full range of emotion is part of the human experience God created. Emotions color our experiences, shading them with intensity and vibrancy. While we experience happiness, it is as much a part of our life as sadness. Yet, when we deny ourselves the opportunity to express our true feelings, suppressing them instead, we do ourselves more harm than good. We need to experience all emotions in order to process and heal.
Let’s explore and examine the notion of toxic positivity in this article, considering the following questions:
- What is toxic positivity?
- When does positivity enter, presenting detriment to our well-being?
- How do we engage our emotions with a balanced approach to experiencing them?
What is toxic positivity?
While the definition of toxic positivity varies across sources, many counseling and therapeutic professionals align around core components. It is an overemphasis on generating positive feelings, such as happiness and gratitude.
While these feelings are good in and of themselves, toxic positivity supplants the necessary experience of feelings, such as anger and sadness, to suppress some of the other emotions we rightly encounter in a healthy emotional life.
We don’t have to wander beyond the experience of our First Parents, Adam and Eve, to note that we shirk discomfort. We don’t like pain, sometimes shrinking back in shame when we are conflicted or experiencing disconnection between our intentions and actions.
We cover ourselves with excuses and dishonesty, plastering a film atop the authentic selves we are often fearful to reveal, not just to others, but often with God, and ultimately, ourselves.
Where does toxic positivity enter?
In this respect, it is understandable that we avoid the discomfort of the emotions that we tend to associate with negativity. When our faith practices mislabel and harshly judge the role and value of emotions, we find a reason to suppress and hide, while short-circuiting ourselves from properly giving space to process the unpleasant.
However, these emotions are important, as they often indicate a deeper, perhaps overlooked need in life. Our life cycles will testify that because we may experience uncomfortable feelings frequently or at distinct times when we are triggered by a familiar experience or memory, we need to pay attention.
In those moments, our hearts send us messages. When we listen, we will discern when they are telling us of hurt. anger. frustration, or unrest. Although our emotions may be unreliable guides, they are good indicators of deeper issues. When we engage in toxic positivity, we block the signals that our uncomfortable emotions need and want to tell.
To quell the tension between wanting everything to be okay, as toxic positivity suggests, and navigating the challenges associated with suffering, toxic positivity minimizes the depths of one’s emotion, and thereby, discounts the validity of one’s experience. In short, toxic positivity does not allow one to process the essential parts of their feelings of grief, loss, pain, and trauma.
While many of our storm clouds may present with the “silver lining,” Toxic positivity is more than “looking on the bright side.” Having an optimistic outlook is an important resilience builder.
When we do it at the expense of allowing ourselves or others the freedom and permission to process the range of feelings, we shortchange important steps in our healing process. We prematurely accelerate to a resolution before we have even properly grieved our loss and further explored the lessons life seeks to teach us.
How do we engage and balance our emotions?
Life may be good, but it can also present hard circumstances. When we allow ourselves to encounter those and connect with the raw emotion, it allows us to connect with God and others from an authentic space. Bringing our realities to the Lord acknowledges His sovereignty over our anger and sadness.
He can only heal when we choose to no longer mask our pain behind a facade of toxic positivity. We disallow the Holy Spirit of His role as our comfort and peace when we plaster positive adages, popular culture phrases, or faith memes over our hurt without sufficiently connecting with wounds below the surface.
When we connect with our hearts and remove the facade of toxic positivity, it frees us into a more authentic connection and relationship with God, with ourselves, and with others. In relating to the truth of others’ stories and sharing the transparency of our own, we can build more authentic, sincere relationships based on connection as opposed to pretense.
God moves through Christ’s Body to meet and minister to the needs that we all have. When we lift the veil of toxic positivity, we are privileged to offer the pinpointed support and encouragement that each other needs. Scripture is clear about getting one’s needs met when we present the reality of what we’re facing in a safe, Kingdom community.
God never expects us to come to Him with our emotions perfectly arranged. Trying to do anything independently does not please Him. It denies Him the role of being our refuge, strength, and strong tower. It presents a classic case of religion without relationship.
Adam showed us this in the garden. He patched fig leaves together to craft his own salvation, attempting to shield his nakedness. Though God knew he was naked all along, Adam covered himself from the shame he felt about his nakedness.
This is invariably what we do with toxic positivity. We cover ourselves with its fig leaves, seeking to mask the pain of our circumstances. Yet, the only way we can get healing into that space is by acknowledging our need before God, especially when the shame surrounding negative thoughts or circumstances takes over. God’s pre-eminent desire is to be present with us, in the most intimate spaces marked by pain and discomfort.
Surely, God wants us to have a positive outlook, but He commands us to place confidence in Him amid our circumstances. It does not ignore pain, feelings, or infirmities. He knows about all of it, but He wants us to recognize that His Lordship is greater than any idol we could make of discomfort or the toxic positivity that doesn’t have a real place in our lives with Him.
God wants to provide our balance and security in Him as our anchor, and not in a “positive vibes only” mentality that discounts the necessity and inevitability of trials and suffering that are part of the Holy Spirit’s curriculum for character development.
Toxic positivity strips the value of the “all things” that God intends to work mutually for our good and His glory. That means that we are as much in need of our valleys that God allows us to experience the fullness of Him in the mountaintops.
Consider what you have read about toxic positivity in this article. Take an honest assessment of your own life and examine if this has been one of several ways that you have attempted to “hide” from the difficulties of your pain and circumstances. Realize that you do not have to confront such challenges alone.
Not only is the Holy Spirit your constant companion, Friend, and Teacher, but He has also equipped those within our practice to come alongside and support you with counseling and practical therapeutic strategies to encourage your healing, growth, and change. Reach out today. Something better awaits.
“See the Good”, Courtesy of Nathan Dumlao, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Embrace”, Courtesy of Adrianna Geo, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Crying Boy”, Courtesy of Arwan Sutanto, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Free”, Courtesy of Zac Durant, Unsplash.com; CC0 License