Asmita made us aware that both my husband and I were guilty of Toxic Positivity. She also pointed out that I was on the receiving end of Toxic Positivity. Toxic Positivity is the assumption, either by one’s self or others, that despite a person’s emotional pain or difficult situation, they should have a positive outlook.
Most of the advice that I got after Lilly’s passing was well-intended and came about as a result of not knowing how else to help. Everyone shared their wisdom and love with good intentions. The truth of the situation was that I would have to go through the ‘stages of grief’. I would have to go through the pain and distress. A positive mindset was not going to ‘fix’ how I was feeling.
What was meant to provide relief ended up hurting me even more. My heart breaks and I break down every time I hear or read the following statements:
Lilly is in a better place. Her suffering is over. I don’t want Lilly to be in a better place. I want her here with me. I never wanted her to suffer, I wanted us to get through this. I want her back!
You have three other children to focus on. How did having three other children lessen the pain. What about Lilly? How do I describe the physical, mental, and emotional pain of not having Lilly?
You need to be strong and move on. How do you move on after losing a child?
All you need is time. I don’t see time ’fixing‘ this one.
Everything happens for a reason. Life is not the suffering olympics. None of this makes sense! Don’t tell me there’s a reason to this madness!
In an ideal world, I should be able to say, ”Here, this is what I need. This is how you can help me”. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Simply tasks like getting out of bed and brushing my teeth are too much. I don’t know how to pick up the pieces and move on with what I have left. I don’t know how to be grateful for what I have. All I see and feel is Lilly’s absence.
Lilly made up a quarter of me. I was going to have to learn to live without a quarter of my being. Having three other children was not going to fill the part of me that was missing. It’s like telling someone that just lost their hands, well be grateful that you have your legs. A strong positive mindset was not going to make things any easier.
Psychologist Carl Jung asserted, “What you resist not only persists but will grow in size.” In other words, when we resist feeling painful emotions, not only does the same emotion continue but it has the potential to become a larger, more driving force in our lives.
I needed help to accept the horror of the situation and validate what I was feeling. I needed someone to just listen to me rant. I needed someone to acknowledge that it was okay for me to feel helpless. It was OKAY to not be OKAY.
Instead of this toxic positivity, Whitney Goodman (a famous Therapist) says we should offer something like, “This is hard. You’ve done hard things before, and I believe in you.” It affirms our difficulty, but at the same time, it gives us hope. It doesn’t wallow. It tells us we can. But it doesn’t tell us that we have to.
I am guilty of toxic positivity. How many times I’ve told my kids how they should be grateful for what they did have. How they shouldn’t dwell on what they had lost. I was not trying to hurt them with these comments. I was trying to make them feel better. What I had failed to do was validate that there situation sucked!
I was guilty of toxic positivity with Lilly. When Lilly was depressed and anxious, all she was looking for was acceptance, validation, and someone to listen to her. She didn’t need me to keep emphasizing how lucky she was to have help, how she was in a better situation than others, how she should be grateful. She was looking for gentle nudges or suggestions. More importantly, she was looking for support over unsolicited advice.
Who knew that being a parent meant that you needed to have a PhD in Human Psychology. As parents, our immediate reaction is to solve problems and make our child feel better. Little did I know that my statements were actually hurting not helping my children.
Below are examples of Non-Toxic Acceptance & Validation statements:
My youngest feels that she’s responsible for my happiness. I have reassured her that she is NOT responsible for my happiness. I know that it would be easier if I masked my feelings and showed her ONLY the strong side of me. But that is me pretending that everything‘s OKAY when it isn’t. Sim - Mum is grieving, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love you and I’m not there for you.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with positivity. It can help lift and motivate you. Positivity can become harmful when it’s insincere, forceful, or delegitimizes real feelings of anxiety, fear, sadness, or hardship.
In this case, it’s not healthy positivity, it’s Toxic.