My favourite sunglasses have a rosy tint that make the sky look bluer and the grass look greener. I’ve tried the gray lenses because they matched my chosen frames better, but the world looked dull and dismal, and my optimistic nature just couldn’t stand them for long. Bring out the rose-coloured glasses!
I stand on Val’s Stage this beautiful fall day as a friend trying to grapple with the idea of “toxic positivity”. After a colleague sent an email to our staff conference on this topic a couple of weeks ago, I knew this would be my next blog post, but I’ve honestly needed some time to process it.
TOXIC and POSITIVITY: two words that just don’t seem like they go together!
Who doesn’t like to be around upbeat, positive people who always have a smile for you? Apparently, not everyone shares that opinion…
Looking to Friends for Advice
I’ve always been a good listener; an optimistic, positive listener. When I look back over many of my friendships, I see a pattern of being there for people when they needed someone to listen. I rode in many boats on stormy waters with friends who went through cancer, broken marriages and mental illnesses. There was a period of closeness as we weathered the storm, and then we climbed out of the boat and went our separate ways – still friends, but the intensity of our relationship petered out as our lives took us in different directions.
A couple of years ago, I met a lady and we became friends. We had many things in common, which gave us lots to talk about, and we met regularly. The terms of our friendship didn’t rely on a huge life event – we started our relationship on a level playing field. I had high hopes for a different kind of friendship – maybe even a “best friend”, a term I didn’t use much growing up as a pastor’s kid and moving from community to community every few years. Less than two years later, however, I walked away from the relationship and cited “toxic negativity” as the reason to do this.
While it started off in a balanced way, it quickly turned into a realm where I dreaded spending time with her. The conversation was always self-centered, negative towards others, and judgmental; with her sometimes getting upset over things I didn’t say (e.g. I should have praised her for something she had just spent a large amount of time praising herself for). I came home feeling like all the life (and positive energy) had been sucked out of me.
Why do I look back at my other friendships as being more positive when we navigated issues that were more inherently negative? The difference was that my other friends made steps toward moving on from their circumstances. They leaned on my optimism, my spirituality, and encouraging shoulder and faced forward. They were able to find the courage to make changes in their lives to help them through horrible circumstances. They didn’t sit in a corner wailing, “Poor me! Poor me!”
Looking to Music for Advice
If you’ve turned on your radio lately, you may have heard the following Demi Lavato/Marshmellow September 2020 release, Ok Not to Be Ok.
…When you’re down and you feel ashamed
It’s okay not to be okay
The song was released in partnership with the Hope for the Day suicide prevention movement. While the words in the song’s lyrics suggest that feeling down and validating your negative emotions is okay, and encourages the listener not to give up, it doesn’t provide an alternative solution to not feeling okay.
Looking to Psychology for Advice
In his article in Psychology Today entitled, Toxic Positivity: Don’t Always Look on the Bright Side (the title threw me for a minute, as a person who always looks on the bright side), Dr. Konstantin Lukin, clinical psychologist, defines toxic positivity this way:
The concept that keeping positive, and keeping positive only, is the right way to live your life. It means only focussing on positive things and rejecting anything that may trigger negative emotions.
This seems to be the opposite of the message that the Gratitude movement has been promoting the last few years – looking to all the things you can be thankful for to raise your spirits. In other words, focussing on positive things.
In the last line of his article, Lukin says, “… paying attention and processing your emotions as they come and go may help you better understand yourself, and those around you.” Okay, I’ll admit that you can’t just run from everything negative in your life or refuse to acknowledge that some things bring you down. But I don’t think the doctor is prescribing a session of wallowing either.
Looking to God for Advice
I finally figured out why this whole concept was so confusing for me as I processed this statement of Dr. Lukin’s:
“Evolutionarily, we as humans cannot program ourselves to only feel happy.”
Ahh, there it is. We cannot program ourselves. Nope. The concept of toxic positivity is a secular one; a concept that defines life outside of a faith-based belief system; life without Christ.
The thing that disappointed me most about that one toxic friendship was that we both claimed to share the same belief system. But when I define myself as a child of God, I can be positive all the time, because I trust Him to help me through the tough times.
I still have to pray for the power of His grace to deal with negative circumstances. I still face challenges. I could follow the song lyrics above and tell myself it’s okay to feel miserable. I could bring down everyone around me with my dark mood and Eeyore-pessimism, or I can lean on the one who created me to help me through. If I choose Faith and Trust as my doctor’s prescription (not dissing doctors – they are often an extension of God’s hands), I can remain positive in my circumstances. I trust that my heavenly Father will not let me down.
Toxic positivity? In my world, this is an oxymoron.
As believers, let’s allow the light of God to shine through us in our sphere of influence. Let’s show others what a life in Christ can be:
I’m putting on my rose-coloured glasses now to go walk in the beauty of Autumn… Have you got yours?
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”Philippians 4: 6-7
“The joy of the Lord is my strength.“Nehemiah 8:10