Over the last few years I've developed a positive mindset - and I'll be honest, when I started developing a positive mindset, I didn't even know thats what I was doing.
I just knew I HAD to make some changes, because I was at rock bottom and sinking fast.
Now Positive Mindset has become a bit of a trendy buzz word, so much so that I've noticed a real trend of 'toxic positivity' being parroted under the positive mindset banner and I want to explain why they are so different
Positive Mindset is GOOD for mental health, Toxic Positivity most certainly isn't
What is 'Toxic Positivity'?
First off toxic positivity is being dishonourable to everyones feelings. It says that you should be happy, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. It belittles and shames you and leaves you feeling conflicted and even more full of negative emotions than before
Toxic Positivity doesn't acknowledge that there are bad things going on at all, or that are lasting effects from trauma - however big or small
It's a pressure cooker waiting to explode
Some examples of toxic positivity:
"Someone else has it worse that you"
"Cheer up, it's not that bad"
"I don't know what you're so upset about" (this also could be found under gaslighting....)
I want you to know that YOUR feelings are valid. No matter what they are about and however seemingly in-proportionate to the situation. If you are feeling those feelings there is a reason and ignoring them will never be the solution.
Toxic positivity makes you feel helpless and powerless and its actually really negative.
You start putting on a mask and pretending to be ok and it's like putting a sticking plaster over a big deep wound - it's not effective at all
What is Positive Mindset?
Positive Mindset is about focusing on what you CAN do in any situation, rather than focusing on what you can't control. You honour and embrace your feelings but ask yourself how you can move through them.
Positive mindset is almost a bit of a misnomer because it's not really about being 'positive' but about:
Focusing on what you CAN do, rather than dwelling on what you can't change
Focusing on ACTION, rather than passively looking on, 'hoping' things'll get better
Looking at the lessons and growth from the situation, rather than focusing on the pain it caused you
Looking at everything you gained (experience, growth, lessons, etc), instead of mourning all you might have lost (which probably wasn't serving you anyway)
Turning to gratitude and empowerment, not victim mode and having a pity party
Taking control and responsibility of your own feelings and actions and not throwing blame around like a weapon
Events happen that are going to give us more 'negative' feelings, although I don't like referring to them as 'negative feelings'. I'd rather use 'lower vibe' because thats really what they are.
All thoughts have a frequency. The more 'positive' you go, the higher the frequency. The more 'negative' you go, the lower the frequency - they aren't actually negative, just vibrating at a much lower frequency
When you have worked at developing a positive mindset, you will automatically start to do everything I listed above
How a Positive Mindset helped me in a traumatic situation
November 2019 I had a really traumatic experience when my entire tyre exploded while I was on the M1 (really busy UK motorway), in rush hour, on a smart motorway (no hard shoulder) in PITCH BLACK! I was 90 miles from home, 120 miles from my destination.
I immediately went into 'can do' mode. Thankfully (see- there's that gratitude) there was just enough of the embankment showing before the crash barrier that I could just get my car out of the lane. Phoned my dad for advice (I was so freaked I couldn't think). Phoned my partner to look up my breakdown service details and message them to me. I walked along the embankment (with a hugely steep drop!) using my phone torch to see by, to the orange phone where I reported my stranded vehicle (FYI - if you're ever in this situation you can call 999 - I didn't know that). They hadn't seen it - shocker!
Then the highways agency came, and took my car to safety. Took me to the services that were just a mile down the road because I was dying for a wee! And I called my breakdown service from there and they eventually came and rescued me and took me the rest of my journey to see my family in Newcastle.
It was only afterwards I realised I had turned to gratitude the whole way through
I said "I'm so grateful Jason [my partner] got my breakdown details for me". "I'm so grateful I even had breakdown cover!", "I'm so grateful the lovely highways agency man took me to the services so I could have a wee" (goodness knows how I held all that time!). "I'm so grateful the breakdown company covered me to be towed up to Newcastle so I didn't have to miss out on our family plans" and so on
At no point did I sit and go 'why me'? or start complaining about my situation or blame. I took control, I took responsibility and I sorted it out - sitting in an attitude of gratitude the whole time
It was really traumatic though - how did I get over that?
And this is where we see the difference between positive mindset and toxic positivity.
I was NOT OK. I was traumatised. Quite possibly had PTSD from the incident - not just the initial incident, but the treacherous walk to the orange traffic phone, and then sitting in my car (in the lay-by) as it swayed with every car and lorry that whizzed past - I have never felt so vulnerable and unsafe in my life.
Just because I had dealt with the initial situation, didn't mean I didn't need time to process and time to heal.
My work were not understanding at all. They gave me grief for having a day off. They all knew about it, yet put me on the busiest and most stressful job (I was a biomedical scientist in a lab) and not one single person asked me how I was.
I went to the locker room and absolutely broke down, and a lovely lady took me to occupational health, who advised me to call my doctor. My GP was absolutely amazing. Signed me off work for 10 days and gave me some wonderful advice - I was relieved to get some compassion and understanding because at this point I was a mess, but feeling like I was making a fuss over nothing.
So then I rested, I cried, I honoured my feelings and I started to process it.
There is no timeline for these things though - same as grief
I was a hugely confident driver with 18 years experience of driving long distances regularly. Now I am still terrified to drive. I didn't allow myself to give myself time to heal before getting back behind the wheel because I bought into the toxic positivity of "if you leave it too long, you'll never do it again". I kept forcing myself even though it was causing me severe anxiety, and honestly, that really compounded the trauma.
So now, I'm doing it my way. After another minor incident, which created recurring flashbacks, I've stopped driving. I won't drive again until I feel ready, and until I have a brand new car with all the mod cons - and I absolutely will not be swayed on this.
Trying to push myself caused way more damage than stopping and allowing myself to process ever would have, and thats the damage toxic positivity can do
So how do you deal with toxic positivity?
You have to learn to listen to yourself. If there is resistance (and it's not just because you're stepping outside your comfort zone and it's something you need to do for personal growth) don't do it. Set your boundaries and hold firm. It will do more damage in the long run.
Allow yourself to honour your feelings.
If you need to cry, go do it (but maybe find a quiet corner where you won't be bothered)
If you're angry and need to punch something, head to the gym and find a healthy outlet
If it feels really wrong and is causing you anxiety, step away
Any feelings that are coming up are telling you something - listen to them
I hope this has helped you differentiate between positive mindset and toxic positivity and hopefully you can now start to identify the areas of toxic positivity in your life and start to flip them
EDIT: added February 2024: I am now driving again. 20 months out helped me de-traumatise, and although I'm still driving the same car, I had it thoroughly serviced and checked out by my local garage who I trust massively. In the last 6 months I have regained my driving confidence - I just needed that space to work through my trauma
If you want to start building a more positive mindset, I have a free guide you can download here
And my free group is on facebook called the Positive Mindset Tribe®. You're welcome to join us. Join here