Critical Thinking Glossary: Toxic Positivity

A bit about The Foreword: 

The Foreword is an online platform and weekly newsletter featuring career(ish) advice, recommendations and insights from people you admire, haven't met yet or want to get to know. Each week, our guest wraps up a Q&A by nominating someone they admire; be it a friend, an acquaintance or a stranger. The next newsletter that lands in your inbox features this person, creating a global chain of fascinating people who offer practical pearls of wisdom. It's chain mail you'll actually want to receive, promise! 


The Foreword's Critical Thinking Glossary 

With the internet at our fingertips, we have more access to ideas than ever before. Concepts that were once relegated to the world of academia are accessible to any app-dweller who takes an interest.


In our Critical Thinking Glossary series, we'll deep dive into a term, idea or phrase that might help you better understand a concept and unpack your ways of thinking. Sometimes the vocab we use online can be a touch overdone (Normalise! Gaslighting! Problematic!), but hey, that's the nature of our fast-paced, illuminated internet culture. We don't necessarily subscribe to every one of these notions, but it's fun to explore the sea of ideas floating around out there. At the very least, you'll look super smart at your next function (team with Flex Conversation Cards for extra points). We'll take a look at the concept from different angles and give you some prompts in which to challenge yourself, giving you: the good, the bad and the puzzling. 


FIRST UP: TOXIC POSITIVITY

WTF is it?

If you traverse the same corners of the internet that we do, chances are you've heard of this one. Toxic positivity is a belief or habit that champions positive thinking in all situations, regardless of the gravitas, nuance or possible outcome. 


The good (how can this term be used to instigate positive reflection) 

Optimism is great, but constant, unwavering positivity isn't sustainable. If we choose positivity every time over accepting or dissecting obstacles and failures, we may, in turn, neglect and undermine genuine and normal emotional responses. It's often helpful to put a name to traits that we or others in our lives have exhibited to help us navigate them moving forward.


The bad (how could this term be counterproductive)

Are we too quick to label uncomfortable or irritating things "toxic", or is it truly damaging? And if hyper-positivity is someone's individual coping mechanism, is it anyone's right to label it as "toxic positivity"? 


The puzzling (how can I interrogate this concept and my own actions?)

  • When is a time that I have been excessively positive to the detriment of my own growth? What can I do differently next time?
  • If someone is giving me advice and I feel like they're exhibiting toxic positivity, is it better to say something or let it go?
  • Am I categorising other people's optimism as "toxic positivity" just because they behave differently to me or to how I'd like them to?
  • Could this toxic positivity be bordering on unintentional “gaslighting”? 

Some tips if you want to avoid "toxic positivity":

  • Accept that you're human, and sometimes you will have negative experiences or thoughts. Emotions are complex; sometimes we get frustrated, jealous or sad—don't deny these genuine feelings. 
  • Avoid hiding from failure, sit with, and acknowledge it, and ask yourself what you learnt and how you might apply this new knowledge next time.
  • Don't disregard or minimise feelings of guilt or sadness because they're difficult. Acknowledge them and find healthy ways to move past them.  
  • Watch your language around others who are sharing their feelings with you. Hitting them with overly positive quips may make them feel as though you're not listening to them, and you may undermine their reasonable feelings.

You can try avoiding the following phrases: 

  • Failure is not an option
  • You'll get over it
  • Don't be so negative
  • Things could always be worse
  • Good vibes only
  • Quitters never win

It might help to get comfortable with the following phrases: 

  • Failure is a chance to learn, I'll be ok
  • I'm sorry that happened to you, how can I help?
  • Sometimes things are tough, but I'm here for you, and I'm listening. 
  • It's not fun to feel like that, I'm sorry. 
  • There's strength in being vulnerable. 
  • What's your ideal outcome? Let's try to figure something out. 

What are your thoughts on toxic positivity? DM us at @the.foreword. We bloody love a chat. And stay tuned for more bite-sized idea explorations as part of our Critical Thinking Glossary series here on the Flex Factory blog. Bye! 

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