Toxic Positivity and the Denial of Emotions

in Natural Medicine2 months ago

Hey beefriends! I hope everyone is doing well today. We are buried in snow again here in Denver so I'm holed up with a space heater cranking.

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No, this isn't odd for Denver; we often get snow on Beltaine (1 May), but it's still amusing

Today I'd like to discuss the phenomenon of toxic positivity and the propensity in our culture to deny one's emotions, as if we were Vulcans from Star Trek.

"Toxic positivity" I believe for some people stems from a misunderstanding of the Law of Attraction, and is a big reason why so many people start on that path and go so horribly sideways with it. If you're unfamiliar, the premise of the Law of Attraction is, in the simplest terms, that like attracts like. So people get an introductory lesson in this and think, well, if I want positive things that must mean that I should be positive ALL THE TIME and pretend that negativity doesn't exist and that this is all just a matter of willpower! But unfortunately, that is neither how life, or the law of attraction, works.

Even Ester Hicks (Abraham) talks about how you can't go from horribly depressed to ecstatic just by deciding that you will (Ester/Abraham is one of the most well known teachers of the law of attraction). They talk about it more like you're climbing a ladder: maybe you're starting off horribly depressed, and a more realistic goal would be to get to feeling like, "Meh, this is tolerable" or something. Then maybe you get a step further and have a little hope that things can get better. Then maybe you get a step further and start to have some good days where you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Etc.

But some people hear one lecture on YouTube or watch The Secret, think they've got it, and run around with this "positive vibes only!!!" idea and not only suppress their own emotions, but demand that everyone else around them do the same, or they get abandoned for "being too negative." This isn't good - for that person OR their loved ones.

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In Ester terms, they relate everything to vibration: basically, the vibration of "depression" is too far away from the vibration of "joy," so you have to work your way up to a higher vibration in order to stay there. But in non-LoA terms, it just isn't healthy to pretend that you can live in your little bubble of perfect and never ever feel sad again, and demand that everyone pretend the same delusion for you and suppress their very real, very natural, human emotions. To go back to Ester, they say that "contrast," basically, those things that you don't want, exist to help you clarify what you actually do want. It's very much a "would you know what light was if there wasn't darkness" kind of idea. Contrast is going to happen, even if your vibration is high, because that's part of the game.

Now, you might think that this isn't a very big problem. What's the harm in being positive, and looking for the good in everything? Well, plenty. I've discussed before how suppressing our emotions can lead to deep-seated psychological problems and massive shadows full of truths we refuse to look at, that cannot heal until we acknowledge that they're there and process them in a healthy way. That's bad enough when you do it to yourself, but imagine a parent who has hooked on to this simplistic understanding of the law of attraction and starts encoding in their kids that they're not allowed to cry. That they're not allowed to get angry when injustice happens. That they're not allowed to complain about it. You have just opened the door for your kid not only to have great psychological harm, but also potentially to become a victim, as they think it's better to just endure and smile and pretend everything is fine, even if they are being abused. Kids have to be able to express their emotions (everyone does). They're going to be messy about it when young because they are still learning to self-regulate. I'm not saying, "yes, let your child have a temper tantrum and do nothing about it," but I am saying if your child comes to you upset and you dismiss, invalidate, and gaslight them about an actual problem because you don't want to hear it, you've just taught them a very harmful lesson.

Imagine too, your friend is grieving a loss. Do you think it's helpful to tell them "get over it"? No, that's cruel. They have to be with their grief and process it. It might be uncomfortable to you to be with them in their grief, but that's what a supportive friend does. Your friend who has a terrible disease that they are struggling with? They're allowed to have feelings about it. It's natural to go through various emotions as you come to terms with this thing that has happened to you. Telling them to suck it up because other people have it worse isn't being helpful, it's being thoughtless. Your pain doesn't lessen because maybe someone somewhere else has it worse. Your cancer doesn't disappear because someone else has more cancer.

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So, people need space to process their feelings. It doesn't mean that they're going to be upset about it forever. With time and healing, maybe they'll come to a better place about it. But that doesn't happen if they're expected to deny their emotions in the first place.

Now I'm not laying this whole cultural phenomenon on a misunderstanding of the LoA. The LoA is only pretty recently widely known, and this dynamic has existed for generations before that. So what other reasons are there for people to deny their emotions? A couple that I can think of, and one of those is toxic masculinity. Don't run away, gentlemen, hear me out. People seem to have this notion that "toxic masculinity" is that "anything manly is toxic," but that isn't what it means. Toxic masculinity is things like, "men aren't allowed to feel/express emotions." This is BAD for men and boys, and bad for the people in their lives. Men have emotions - all of them - but society acts like the only "acceptable" emotion for men to express is anger. And we wonder why the vast majority of the people who snap and act out in mass acts of violence are men! This isn't because men are somehow intrinsically different from women and nonbinaries; it's because society didn't give them any tools to deal with life besides "get angry about it."

Think about it. A boy might feel grief or sadness about something, but the adults in his life tell him to "man up" and "cowboy up" and "boys don't cry." Boys DO cry, but if you tell them that's not right then they're made to feel broken for having a natural human emotion. That's damaging af, and then everyone acts surprised when that kid grows up to have shitty coping mechanisms. Boys need space to process their feelings just like everyone else. They aren't robots.

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And they can love cats, just sayin'

But it isn't just men who are made to feel like their emotions are "bad." How many times have you heard someone accuse a woman of "being manipulative" if she cries? As if every woman was an Oscar-winning actress who can cry on cue and uses that as a tool to get what she wants. What the fuck kind of bullshit is that? I can't cry on cue, can you? Listen, I'm not saying that there aren't manipulative people in the world, but generally, people can't control their emotions like that and act out a scene and then go cackle about it later like "Yes! I got my way!" People feel things. Sometimes they feel things that they really don't want to feel, but they feel them anyway. Sometimes they feel things that they know aren't logical, but they feel them anyway. Sometimes people cry when they're angry (I know a lot of people like that). Sometimes people cry when they're scared. Sometimes people cry when they're sad. Sometimes people cry when they're happy. It's a thing that humans do, not a lie to control you somehow. Whenever I hear someone accuse someone of that, all it tells me is that that is how the accuser thinks and acts, not the accused.

But what does this do to women and girls who are prone to cry when emotional and are always getting accused of doing it on purpose? They feel invalidated at every turn. Their concerns, feelings, emotions, wants, needs - everything is treated as "not real," and they learn to not expect respect, or love, or validation, or to be believed. And so they too, learn to be victims.

All of this has got to stop.

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Emotions feel overwhelming when you are young and haven't learned to deal with them yet. I know I had a temper from hell as a child, but you know what? I don't anymore. I eventually learned to walk away, cool off, process my feelings and think clearly about what I was really feeling so I could go back when I was calm to discuss the issue when I wasn't just in a rage about it. That's part of growing up. But if you're not allowed that space - either because you're not allowed to walk away ("Don't walk away from me! I'm talking to you! We're having this discussion NOW!"), or because they're not allowed to come back later and talk about it ("I don't want to talk about it anymore. I said what I had to say. Just forget about it."), then how can you learn to do that? I didn't learn it at home. My family is terrible at dealing with emotions. I learned it only in adulthood.

People of every gender need to be allowed to feel their feelings, and learn to deal with them. Bottling them up and pretending they don't exist isn't how you grow and mature, it's how you get an ulcer. Nor is it how you raise your vibration - it's just how you delay attracting what you really want, because you're still holding on to that hurt instead of dealing with it in any real way.

Emotions are a real human experience. You cannot wish them away any more than you can wish the night or the rain away and live in eternal sunshine. What is important is learning how to live with them, just as you learn to make your own light source and your own shelter from the rain. It isn't "negative" or "bad" or "unmanly" or "manipulative" to feel things - it's natural. What matters is what you do with those emotions. Do you hurt people with them, or do you learn the lesson of them and grow? Do you bottle them up, or do you listen to the message that your body/mind/soul is telling you? Denying your feelings isn't mastering them, it's hiding from them like a frightened child. Face those emotions. That's how you master them.

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I agree. Positive vibes only is hiding away from reality in an opiate haze. When real emotions or situations that tend to provoke strong feelings come about such people are unable and unwilling to deal with them. Its like building a big wall around yourself of "positive vibes only" and hoping reality doesn't seep through and crumble those walls. Nice post. I love to consider such concepts. It is possible to be happy consistently but that comes with learning how to accept and deal with what comes your way and staying on your path.

Right, like, are you really happy if you're forcing it and pretending to be happy?
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I think there's so many fucked up things that happen in the world PRECISELY because we don't deal with emotions properly. I also think that there's a good case to teach emotional intelligence in schools, but given that half the teachers lack EI themselves, we're doomed. We're all in this cycle of unprocessed, undealt with, suppressed emotions. Shame being a BIG ONE. I'm the queen of emotions and was led to believe that there was something wrong with that - not as if anyone said 'you're shit because you're emotional', but because others around me didn't deal with life on the same emotional level I did, I felt .. different. Plus, when you're faced with an emotional child and you're not, how do you deal with that? Tell them there's no need to be so emotional, right? As if it's a bad thing?

And then you just have trouble even labelling emotions. I carried so much shame in me for being bullied , but I couldn't even identify that it WAS shame, and when I had EMDR I found out it was ANGER and RAGE - but I had no where for that to go, because god, girls aren't meant to lash out and scream and tell people to stop because they'd be hysterical, and over emotional.

Anyway, I'm pretty in charge of my emotions these days but geez I wish I'd been taught to be with them a lot earlier.

Great, great post.


Posted on NaturalMedicine.io

Yeah, both men and women aren't allowed to get angry. I express just a bit of anger (not even at the person), and I will hear how someone "doesn't feel safe". We're so repressed as a culture influenced by Victorian beliefs about keeping everything to ourselves.

Great comment, I could really feel the emotion behind it. Yay for expressing emotion!


Posted on NaturalMedicine.io

I'm thinking if someone is telling you that when you're not angry at them in specific and just kinda venting a little, they're dealing with their own past trauma. Like if someone had an abusive parent or relationship, they'll see any angry man or angry woman, depending, as threatening them.
We're all scarred and repressed and not taught how to deal with it. <3

That's true right. We need to express anger in healthy ways too!!!!

I was always told as a child that I was "too sensitive." Apparently that's highly common in undiagnosed autistic kids; when you mask well enough that you fly under the radar but you can't hide everything, you get told that a lot. If they only knew. And what's the good in saying that, anyway? "Hi, you shouldn't have feelings?" Gee thanks, I'll take that on board. ..?!?!
Those of us who are learning about these things and about healing and EI and stuff, I firmly believe are breaking those generational cycles. And that's important work. <3

I think so too. I hope that I can talk to my son and his girlfriend about it should I be blessed with grandkids one day. It's the kind of thing they'd take on board. Too sensitive should be a bloody awsome compliment in my opinion. It's why we are who we are, and if you ask me, we are both nice people.

Such a good read. The expression 'good vibes only' I see quite a lot, especially on dating apps, and well, it's just not realistic. How to express and fully feel our emotions I feel is something everyone should get taught in school. The importance of really process your emotions, especially the most challenging emotions. Otherwise, they get stuck in your body and leads to all kinds of diseases (as you point out).

What I feel is helping me also when I'm caught up in feeling some really strong challenging emotions is to remind myself that I'm not my emotions, I'm the one who experiences these emotions. And also to remind myself that it'll pass. If I really face this it will also free itself. It has taken years of practice though to get here.

Right, like, we get "health class" (or some variant) in school and it's like, teaching you about food groups and exercise and ish like that but they never taught us beans about mental health and emotional intelligence or anything that might fall under the banner of psychology, as if that wasn't part of our health too.
Some would say that parents should teach that, but so many of our parents are just perpetuating generational cycles of dysfunction and they aren't able, even if they're doing their best.

Wonderful wonderful post. This expectation that so many have about being happy and the pressure that is placed on people to always be happy is so damaging. What about all our other emotions that help us be creative, productive and help us to be whole. I really resonated with everything that you said and I wish that more children get the space to discover their emotions and how to express themselves.

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Thanks very much! <3

I was luckily nihilism found me early in life. Now I just go for the realist approach and I am able to deal with my emotions as a condition of my quality of living, instead of something I have immediate control over.

"As a condition of my quality of living" is a really nice way of phrasing that. Thanks for the insight.

I love this so much! I live on Koh Phangan, and island with lots of spiritual practitioners, and so many people are spiritual bypassing! They don't want to live in "low vibrations" and by doing so, suppress what is alive for them.

as they think it's better to just endure and smile and pretend everything is fine, even if they are being abused

Yep, that's how I was raised too. "Turn the other cheek" as Jesus would do. Made for a pretty painful childhood.


Posted on NaturalMedicine.io

Spiritual bypassing, yes! That's an apt term that just didn't come to me as I was writing but I have heard it. So important for people to realize when they are doing that (or being taught to do that). Dr. Lissa Rankin has been writing about this on her social media of late and it's been a good discussion, I think.

Cool, I had to lookup Lissa Rankin and I'll check out her blog.

I read her first book, Mind Over Medicine, which is about the body's ability to heal itself (basically, using the placebo effect to your benefit), and I really liked it. She had published that one and I think a second under Hay House publishers, but recently, in the past year or so, she broke with them over various issues, such as spiritual bypassing and inequality in their publishing practices. And she's been having good discussions about various issues like that in the "spiritual/healing" community ever since.

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Well, I really love the angle you took it from. Indeed, many are obsessed with being positive and it is not uncommon to see people boasting about cutting off negative people in their lives. I agree that struggling to be positive always could be toxic and a gross denial of emotion. It is better to let it flow sometimes.

Thanks! And I totally understand cutting someone off if they're really not good for you or something, I've done that. But yeah, some people go beyond that.
(And I definitely don't boast about it when I walk away!)

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