Toxic Positivity and the Denial of Emotions
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.