The Dangers of Toxic Positivity on Social Media
Updated: Jan 19
Toxic Positivity (n): The overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state that results in the denial, minimization and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.
I've experienced some major writers block before. I have a unfinished book that has been sitting on my computer for 2 years that can attest to that. But I don't think I've ever experienced the kind of writer's block I did trying to write this post. I have sat on this post for three weeks. Constantly writing a sentence, erasing it, writing a paragraph, closing my computer, coming back only to erase it. Usually when this happens I just go for a walk and the words come to me. I usually have to have a conversation about my posts to be able to write it. This time, I would have the conversations but they weren't translating to the page. That was until last week.
I had a really good day last week and I was posting more frequently to my Instagram story. One of my followers responded to my story and told me that they were jealous of my life because it seemed chill and I felt really shitty about that. Not because of their words, but because my life wasn't chill. I had just come up from a really harsh downward spiral. I felt like I was lying to people. I remember stopping in the middle of the road I was walking on when I read his words because it hit me that I was subconsciously perpetuating toxic positivity. That feeling absolutely sucked, and it was my wake up call to sit down and figure out how I wanted to change this pattern and finally fight toxic positivity.
There's this duality to social media for me. Social media, especially Instagram, is my main source for marketing. I use it to market my blog, my photography, my Etsy business, and my soon to launch podcast. Because of that I feel like I use it to highlight the positive things that are going on in my life. But, on the flip side to that. The whole reason I started this blog was to be honest with everyone about what my life actually looked like. Navigating being honest, while also not wanting people to get bored or annoyed or judge me for my more "negative" not "fun" content is a constant argument in my head. But I noticed during this latest bout with depression that I was feeling increasingly isolated and frustrated from the onslaught of toxic positivity.
It was a really interesting feeling. The first couple days into my depression I would see a friends "good vibes only" or "just think happy thoughts" posts and I would think to myself, I would love to have some happy thoughts today. And then I'd try and find the positive, operative word is try. Then a week would go by and I'd still be depressed no matter how hard I tried to think happy thoughts or have only good vibes and those posts would start to hurt. I'd feel angry at myself for not being able to just shake off these feelings, I'd feel mad at them for reminding me that I'm not in a good place, but most of all I would feel so alone. I say that it's an interesting feeling because in the beginning those messages would force me to stop and question if the funk I was in was by my own doing and those checkpoints are always good. But the negative to that is when it's not a funk, when it's actual depression because what those messages reinforce is the feeling of loneliness that I was struggling with.
So what's the solution here? Is it that people never post "positive sayings", is it that people have to post every time they're sad? I don't have any definitive answer, but what I've started to mentally do is lean into myself to find positivity. What that looks like for me: whenever I see a "good vibes only" post or a post of that nature that makes me feel shitty about myself, I go out of my way to find one that feel more self forgiving. Currently love following: @theopeninvite. I am also tracking my moods, this has been a great way for me to take actual stock of how I feel. A lot of times I'll allow one small thing to mentally encompass my whole day but the process of having to track it at the end of the day forces me to be more honest with myself and I've found that I have much less "bad" days than I thought I did.
I'm also trying to be better at being more open about my feelings on social media. There are a lot of reasons why; I don't want anyone who's feeling like they're in a rough patch to feel alone, I told myself I wanted to be honest about my life and the bad times are a part of my life, and I think the reason that I want to the most is because without the bad days there would be no way to truly enjoy the good days.
When I was in high school I was severely depressed. I was self harming and had suicidal ideations. I don't remember much about that time in my life except the countdown I had to get out of high school and move away from my "problems". I bring this up because depression has been apart of my life for a really long time, I am very much aware of what my variety of depressive episodes mean to me. Something that I've learned recently is that no one knows your feelings better than you do. I have a very solid grasp on my feelings (except when I'm on my period then all bets are off) and because of this I'm able to navigate what's right for me in certain situations. This happened through years of therapy and making lots of mistakes. I've said it once and I'll say it again, anyone who can afford to should go to therapy.
The reality is that social media has warped in to this very negative thing that calls for constant perfection. As someone who is studying advertising and marketing I can attest to that. It's easy to manage social media for a brand because it's not a living breathing thing, it's a product or service managed by people. There are certain jobs that call for social media to be their main source of marketing; bloggers, MLMs, the fitness industry; just to name a few. And because this is their main source of marketing they turn themselves in to a brand. The problem this creates is that brands are expected to be perfect all the time, seeing as that they are corporate entities. But humans shouldn't have to be perfect all the time. You should be able to be honest about the good and the bad and still be successful.
I think that we like to think that the rules of social media are written in stone, but they're not. In the classic, we create the change we want to see in the world, we can change the way that social media is run to be the way we want. Sure, Instagram can change the algorithm on us and make our lives harder but Instagram is going to do that no matter what content we produce. So it really is on us to stop the constant spew of toxic positivity. I'm of the belief that we can't truly appreciate the positive moments without the negative moments, and I want to acknowledge those bad moments. I don't want anyone to think that my life is all sunshine and rainbows, especially when I just weathered a storm; but it's on me to break the cycle of toxic positivity.
Until Next Time!
A Whelmed Christy