We talk about toxic masculinity, toxic negativity, and toxicity a lot here on LMBG, and around the world, but do we ever talk about toxic positivity? No? Let’s do that.
Toxic positivity is an obsession with positive thinking. It is the belief that people should put a positive spin on all experiences, even those that are profoundly tragic.
How many times have you heard people tell you that the best way to deal with feeling negative and miserable is to go outside and change your location so you get a different sense of scenery?
How many times have you wanted to scream “I’M AGORAPHOBIC” ?
To clarify my example let’s define agoraphobia:
Agoraphobia (ag-uh-ruh-FOE-be-uh) is a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed. –Mayo Clinic
Now, for me personally, I have ALWAYS had an issue with being outside, I almost always prefer to be in my house with as many of the doors and windows locked as possible, and no matter how many times people have tried to convince me otherwise, this has not changed over the years.
If I have go leave my apartment to pick up a food delivery I either take a cab or meeting the delivery person at the door, if I can avoid going outside, especially alone, I will.
Even though I’ve had grown men break into my home (between 16 and 17) and rape me for hours on end, against my will, or consent if you will, being INSIDE my house feels safer. I know where the exits are, I know where my weapons are if I need them, and I know how to call for help if I need to.
I know who my neighbors are mostly and I know if I have to leave my apartment to run, where to go for help, when I am outside however, there are too many variables, so if I DO have to go outside, it’s almost always with my mommy nearby, and no, I’m not ashamed of this fact.
For someone how deals with severe anxiety issues that come from being raped and abused her ENTIRE life except for the last few years, telling someone to “get over it,” or to “go outside and get fresh air,” when all they want to do is curl up and cry IS toxic, it’s ignorant, and it’s deliberately done so that the person listening doesn’t have to expel emotional energy listening to you.
In reading this article in preparation for my own version of this topic, I found a great list and one of the things on the list was: “telling a parent whose child has died to be happy that at least they can have children.”
I will never forget confessing to someone I considered my “best” friend, that I had miscarried a child, her response shook me to my entire core. “At least you’re not connected to him, (the father) anymore.“
It was heart breaking, yes the man was a total jerk in his addiction, BUT I would not have traded being a mother for anything in the world, and now at 38? I am wondering I am ever going to get the chance, and I am constantly bombarded with reminders of how old my child would be, and questions about where they might be in their development at this age.
Telling someone what you THINK they want to hear, is probably not always the best go, let me ask you mothers, would you trade YOUR children for anything in the world? Would you give up YOUR child? Would you let YOUR child die, just so you don’t have to be connected to their other parent? No, I didn’t think so, so this is probably not the best piece of advice to offer someone who has lost a child.
“Everything happens for a reason,” oh cool, so there was a REASON that my childhood best friend sold me to sex pedophiles so that I could be raped and abused in my own bedroom for weeks on end? That’s cool, do me a favor and tell me what the reason was…I’ll wait.
Tell me what the reason was that my rapists used the name of a man who became a friend, and a tattoo artist when they raped me? What did HE do to deserve such an honor?
Not everything happens for a “reason” that is positive, some things happen because people are fucking shit, so again, just because it’s something YOU want to hear, doesn’t mean that it’s something someone else NEEDS to hear, and that’s the difference between healthy and toxic positivity.
The problem with toxic positivity is that it is LITERALLY about denying someone’s pain so that YOU, the listener, can feel like you’ve helped someone, without actually helping them. It’s a complete and total denial of responsibility, so that you can say “oh well that person is the way they are because I gave them advice.” For the record, telling a victim of childhood sexual trafficking, cult and religious rape, and kidnapping, to get over it, should probably get you punched in the junk.
STOP FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST TELLING PEOPLE THEY ARE STRONG WHEN THEY SHARE THEIR STORY WITH YOU. I have said this before, and I will say it again. It’s fucking dismissive. Okay so I’m strong, so what? Does that mean that I deserved what happened to me because “I” can handle it? No, it fucking does not, so stop saying it.
- I hear you
- What do you need?
- Can I do something?
- Is this enough? Talking about it I mean?
- Would you like to fight back about it?
- Where would you like to start?
There are soo many other things you can say and do to help someone whose dealing with trauma that do not include being dismissive, cruel, or deliberately telling them that THEIR story is not as important as someone else’s, REGARDLESS of what your reasons might be.
Yes, my story COULD be worse, (unlikely if you knew it all,) BUUUUUUUUUUUUUUT, here’s the thing, just because YOU think it could be worse, doesn’t mean that “I” know how to “connect” to how it could be worse, and when you say shit like that, what you’re really telling me is that MY story is unimportant, that I am unimportant, that I do not fit on your shelf of “people, places, and things that matter to me.”
The last time this happened I had to take stock of the serious, scary, shit, that I was going through and I had to acknowledge that MY scary shit wasn’t important to the people who were important to me, and so I walked the fuck away because that was the best way for ME to continue pushing forward and healing.
People who are experiencing trauma center themselves for the single most important reason in the entire world that there is:
NO ONE ELSE DOES.
When those of us who have spent our whole lives being traumatized specifically by things that are out of control, like what others say or do to us, what we’re looking for when we come out of the closet so to speak, is for someone to hold us, hug us, and tell us that they are there and willing to fight through the darkness with us.
Toxic positivity does the exact opposite of that, it just adds to the trauma by informing us that where we are in our development isn’t important to the people that we’re talking to, that our experience, our pain, doesn’t rank high enough on your register to matter.
If you don’t have the emotional capacity to help me figure out how to move forward, I COMPLETEL understand that but you can tell me that without telling me that “I personally”, am not important to you.
I have plenty of people in my life that are super wonderful, and that are really good about telling me that they don’t necessarily have the emotional capacity to deal with my trauma, but it’s the WAY you do it that can change, alter, help grow, or completely destroy, a connection and a relationship.
If you tell me that what “I” am going through is not as important as someone else well you’re telling me something I’ve been hearing my whole life, and unfortunately my TRAUMA response, is going to be for me to shut down, pull away and hide.
If someone comes to you and says “I need to talk,” you can ask them what it is about, and if you are not emotionally prepared or capable of being there to support them you have EVERY SINGLE RIGHT to put up a boundary and let them know that you are not in a place where you’re emotionally prepared to help them, there is NOTHING wrong with that, but it’s all in HOW you do it that matters.
Sometimes those of us dealing with trauma, when we find an outlet, pour everything we have, all the darkness, all the pain, into that outlet and without meaning to we push people away, we show them a side of ourselves that they are not prepared to deal with. We’re not perfect, but we ARE Willing to work on it, and to course correct, as long as you don’t talk down to us and make us feel ashamed for needing to reach out in the first place.
You have to understand that in 2021, every single person on this planet is dealing with some kind of trauma, and in order for us to be able to genuinely help each other, ALL of us need to be more aware of the effect that we have on those around us.
As someone who spent all her years taking in trauma without having an outlet for it, I know that sometimes I can absolutely overwhelm people with my experience, I can push the boundaries of what they are able to consume, and I end up pushing people away because yes, sometimes I am too much too soon.
It’s something that I am working on, being more independent is a huge part of my life goals, but the need to pull people in and take from them support and love, is a childhood trauma response from not having anyone around to protect me, or take care of me after I was wounded by the abuse that I experienced.
I am not saying that my behavior isn’t my fault, I am saying that I am just starting to learn how to adjust how much I share and when, so I don’t overwhelm and shock others. It’s a work in progress, and so when we’re offering positive support to others, one of the things that we really need to offer more than anything else is patience.
My brain spent a lot of years being conditioned into behaving in a constant state of victimhood, and it’s going to take just as long, to break down the way that I used to think, and replace it with what I am learning now.
If you have it in you to PATIENTLY remind me that you need it to not always be about me, then I will walk through fire with you, but the moment that you make me feel like I’ve been told to be small to let OTHER people be big, the child in me is going to scream “no, I’ve been doing that my whole life, YOU be small.“
Yes sometimes I do step aside and wait, sometimes for years, for people to see me, and yes sometimes in this new uncovering of all my layers, I am starting to find moments where I could have stepped back more, or lied and said “I’m fine”, when I really wasn’t.
Absolutely sometimes I center myself – this is another trauma response, but I AM working on it, so if you’re working with me, we’re going to have the best connection EVER, but if you’re trying to find ways to tame my new found fire, I’m sorry this isn’t going to work out.
Toxic positivity does nothing BUT tame fire, and after everything we’ve been through, we’ve learned that we deserve to stoke that fire.
Our emotions after trauma are often buried for years, and since it takes years to find them, it can sometimes take years to deal with them, telling us that they aren’t important, or that we should remain quiet in order to keep yourself from having to deal with our pain, isn’t helpful.
If anything it only reinforces the horrible things that our abusers convinced us were true to begin with, and toxic positivity does NOTHING but encourage the same old patterns and traumas that got us where we are now.
When someone shares their story, or parts of their story, thank them, and then decide if you’re able to support them or not, and if you can’t, they will appreciate you a LOT more for letting them know that “that trauma section” of their lives, isn’t a part of them you can help carry.
That’s okay, and trauma survivors when that happens, appreciate that the person giving you this advice is opening up to you, even if you need to walk away to deal with your “stuff”, not everyone is where you are.
Sending all my love,
Devon J Hall
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