“Hell is paved with good intentions. Read this post and discover a sure way to make someone miserable.” – Goldie the Flabbergasted
Not everyone is like you.
What does that mean? It means that not everyone will react in the same way as you would in any given situation. They might have the same thought-process as you, or they might not.
If you have been following and reading (!!!) this blog for a while, you know that I am very outspoken about mental health. But it is not necessarily in the sense that you might be thinking. Yes, I do think that we should focus on people’s well-being, both mental and physical. However, I do not think that “positive thinking” is a cure-it-all.
Time and time again, we are told that our mental health matters. Right after that, we are told to smile and stay positive. So should we respect people’s thoughts and try to help them when they are struggling? Or should we tell them to “smile”? Why is it not alright to say things like: “It will be alright. Chin up”? Supposedly, that is condescending and can make the person feel worse. Ok… So why is the push for smiling always seen as a good thing? How is it any different from “Stay positive”, “Snap out of it”? To me, someone asking me to smile is way worse. I will keep on working on staying positive and snapping out of it when I have a problem, but it is a process. Telling me to smile NOW is asking way too much. And it requires me to be fake. No, thank you.
Some time ago, when I lived in a country other than the US, friends of mine (from the US) came to visit. The FIRST thing they said to me when we met was that people looked at them in a funny way when they smiled and waved. I could not help but laugh. Yes, to the natives they must have looked like crazy people. In other parts of the world, you do not say hello to random people you pass on the street. You do not smile at them. Why? It is simply suspicious. Why? Believe it or not, in some cultures, you should have a reason to smile. If you do not know someone, you do not have a reason to smile at them, really. They might rush to a mirror to see if they have something weird on their face.
That story repeated itself every time an American came to visit. Likewise, if foreigners come to the US, they comment on those smiles and “hellos”. This time, after the initial unease, they see it as a friendly thing. They feel welcome. Well, at least, some of them. Some still think it is weird. Some cultures prefer honest relations.
To me, a smile is connected to emotions, and emotions are things I do not like to fake. At my previous workplace, I received an email telling me how I should behave when I see another human being in my vicinity. If I remember correctly, it insisted that I smile as soon as I spot them, and then say “Hello” as I pass them by. Being aware of others is a great defensive tactic. In fact, if you see someone that might be suspicious, try to make eye contact and say “Hello” to them. It is said to potentially divert the person from doing something bad because they know they have been spotted and seen and that there now is a witness that could identify them.
While I appreciate it when someone tries to cheer me up when I am down, I prefer to be left alone with my feelings and emotions. Positivity can be toxic! There, I have said it/ I have been saying this for a while, but it has finally been said by “an expert” and all of a sudden people start paying attention. How can well-intended words be toxic? It leaves the receiver of these words feeling like they cannot be vulnerable. Like they cannot share their feelings. Like they are all alone. Is that what you were trying to achieve when you told them that they should just smile?
Aside from having to close off from the world, the person is also made feel like they are being ridiculous for feeling the way they do. It makes them feel like they cannot share their burden with anyone. That it is only theirs to fix. That it is EASY to fix with a smile and a positive attitude. Sometimes grief and sadness are necessary to a human being. We, as a society, are calling on men to be more in touch with their feelings. But at the same time, we are saying that only the good feelings are OK. You cannot pick and choose.
Social media is one of the (if not THE) main culprits here. There is so much posted on the topic of positivity that it makes people think that they cannot be anything but. It makes them feel as if everyone but them is happy. Were you aware of how alienating this can be?
I would like to illustrate toxic positivity by telling a story. Imagine someone just lost a loved one. They are grieving, but they do not share their darkness with others, as as not to dampen those people’s happiness. That person walks around without a smile. Every corner they turn, they are told to smile and to seize the day. All of that does not help. It actually HURTS. It makes the person feel like their feelings are wrong. Like they should do more to fit in. Like there is no one there to understand them and just let things take their natural course. Where does that lead? It leads to the big “D” – depression.
Please, for the love of all that is holy, do not offer positivity related advice if you do not know the person. Sometimes it is alright to just let them be. The expert psychotherapist says that if you are on the receiving end of toxic positivity, “it is OK to tell that person what you need in the moment, and if they’re not able to offer it to you, it’s OK to say, “This is about me”.”
If you would like to read more about what you could say instead of offering toxic positivity, feel free to check out an article from Good Morning Article –> HERE <–.
Remember that not everyone is like you. Do not try to fit their personality into your mold. Theirs might be in the shape of a Christmas tree, while yours in the shape of a snowman. These two still go together in the same season, but are not one in the same. Respect that!
On a side note: Please feel free to share a joke with me in the comment section.
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