Venting to close friends is necessary and a part of self-care. After a bad day at work or an argument with a loved one, seeking emotional support is healthy, but not every friend or relative knows exactly how to respond. Many try to help people resolve their feelings by replying with mantras, inspirational quotes and even scriptures, not realizing that that’s not helpful. Telling people to “Stay strong” or “Be grateful” is more hurtful than helpful. It has actually been deemed toxic positivity.
Using toxic positivity to support your friends dismisses their feelings as you feed them slogans under the assumption that as long as they focus on the positive that they will be okay. Don’t get me wrong, recognizing the positive in difficult situations can be helpful, but not if it is causing you or encouraging someone else to deny that there is a problem. Optimism is fine, but not when it leads to someone sweeping their feelings under the rug so they can power through a situation.
For example, if a friend is talking to you about how they feel something in their life is not working out for them and you reply with “Never give up!” you may think you’re encouraging them to be strong but you’re doing the total opposite. You’re basically telling them they have to stay in a situation that they may not want to be in and isn’t making them happy. You’re not acknowledging that they feel like their quality of life is affected by what they are going through. Plus, sometimes it is okay to give up! Giving up may mean leaving that abusive relationship, or resigning from the job you are burnt out from and interviewing for new positions elsewhere. Giving up on something could open doors for new opportunities.
Using toxic positivity to support your friends also sends the message that any feeling that is not positive is not acceptable. Being angry, sad, overwhelmed or disgusted is normal and universal. Telling people things like “focus on the positive” or to “stop being negative” ignores their feelings and is invalidating. It is okay to point out the negative aspects of a situation. Sometimes there aren’t enough positive things to focus on, which is very telling about whatever that person is going through. Plus, many think that someone venting about the negative means that they are ignoring what is positive about their situation, which isn’t true.
What is truly helpful to someone that is in need of a shoulder to cry on is hope and understanding. Blowing off their pain with a quick inspirational quote is not going to push what they are feeling out of their mind. Plus, toxic-positive responses can be rejecting and can cause them to feel worse. If you keep it up, you may find yourself at the bottom of the list of people to confide in. Learning to tell friends it is okay to feel what they are feeling and asking them how you can provide support through their experience is more appropriate. Pointing out if they are doing something that may harm them going forward would be way more appreciated. Sometimes, you don’t have to say much at all because they just want you to listen.
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“We’ve been there, experienced that. Trauma, Pain, Abuse & Rape. These are the lessons that we brought back.”
–Tonya GJ Prince has been a leading subject matter expert (SME) in domestic violence and sexual violence.
For over 25 years she has helped people heal, prevent, and overcome domestic and sexual violence.
In order to accomplish this mission, she founded several diverse & inclusive platforms designed to allow Survivors to use their own voices including;
WESurviveAbuse.com, SurvivorAffirmations.com, & BraidtheLadder.org.
Tonya is an author, activist, advocate, Survivor, speaker, counselor, & mentor.
B.S. Organizational Management & Development/Bluefield College
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