by Samantha Helgeson
Good morning readers!
Lately, I’ve been coming across the term “toxic positivity” on social media. It is an intriguing concept that embodies one of the main issues I have found with the spiritual and metaphysical community.
So, what is toxic positivity?
This phenomenon is often seen in the spiritual or New Age “Love and Light” community. I would define it as “the unwillingness to acknowledge uncomfortable or negative topics and emotions” and is typically characterized by an overuse of optimistic platitudes. The process of toxic positivity results in “the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.” It actively represses and ignores any emotions, thoughts, or feelings that are not positive, covering them up and avoiding healthy expression and authenticity.
Now I fully get behind positivity, excitement, happiness, and fun. However, in some parts of the spiritual community, there seems to be this idea that everything should always be a fantastic experience, full of sunshine and rainbows, all the time. It is quite a pervasive idea, with slogans like “Good Vibes Only” or “Love and Light” being quite commonly thrown around. There is an emphasis on “positive thinking only” and that only optimism is welcome. The problem with these slogans is that only the good, the light, and the loving are allowed in these spaces. If you are not constantly positive and always looking at the silver lining, then you are simply not “spiritual enough.” Negativity, or negative emotions, are shunned.
Unfortunately, this is where things become toxic. One cannot be positive all the time. Human beings are inherently flawed. We are not simply “good” or “bad,” but we consist of many emotions and behaviours. Humans get jealous, angry, and greedy. We can be resentful, or sad, or grieving. Sometimes life is hard, and it is authentic and human to feel and acknowledge these emotions. Difficult and uncomfortable feelings exist for a reason. When we deny our emotions, we are actively suppressing an opportunity for healing and growth.
Within parts of the Pagan and spiritual community, there is the concept of “shadow work.” Shadow work is the process of bringing the parts of ourselves that we have rejected, hidden, or buried to our conscious awareness to heal them. These are the aspects of ourselves that we may not like, such as the parts that are angry or filled with trauma or that scare us. Shadow work allows us to feel and understand these aspects, and heal what needs to be healed, and accept what needs to be accepted. When you do shadow work, you embrace yourself as a whole being, a being that is both light and dark.
If we only focus on the positive, on the light aspects, and reject anything negative, we become unbalanced. When we ignore what hurts us, we deny ourselves the ability to process pain and learn from the experience. When we pretend that everything is perfect, we lose sight of the areas we still need to grow. Those that practice toxic positivity may have the best intentions in the world, but they end up running away from hard truths and realities. Toxic positivity creates fake happiness and inauthenticity and can lead you to ignore actual issues and problems in your life.
Instead of forcing toxic positivity, it would be better to validate yourself with love and acceptance and take responsibility for your mistakes and actions. Accept the parts of yourself that are flawed and love them anyways. Do not shy away from the negative; feel it fully. There isn’t always a happy ending or a silver lining; sometimes, life is hard. Sometimes you need to cry or vent, and that is perfectly okay.
The brighter the light, the darker the shadow. Those that only practice and preach love and light must have some deep darkness that they want to hide from. If you cannot sit with your darkness, your shadow, you erase part of who you are. Aim for balance and acceptance, rather than all-or-nothing thinking. When you learn healthy ways to express feelings and emotions, positive or negative, you give yourself the opportunity to be truly whole.