Have you ever heard the term “Toxic Positivity”? In our culture of “positive vibes only”, it’s really important to be aware of what toxic positivity is, and why it’s so problematic. Why am I bringing this up in a post about home organizing? Our inner world reflects our outer world (and vice versa), so when you find yourself in a house full of disorganized clutter, it may be due to some negative beliefs and low self-esteem (very common with people with ADHD). If you want to deal with the clutter, it’s going to be important to be aware of your thoughts and emotions so that you can effectively process any negativity that’s creating the clutter without stuffing it down (or worse shaming yourself for having negative thoughts). You’re going to have to create an authentically positive mindset, but of course, that doesn’t happen overnight. It’s also totally ok and normal to not feel authentically positive all the time. But if you can cultivate a positive mindset for at least 80% of the time, you will be so much happier! Another REALLY important reason is that when people feel lonely and isolated, they will often surround themselves with clutter to fill the void of loneliness, or to create boundaries between them and others. When someone feels like all their friends just hurl toxic positivity onto them whenever they open up, they are going to stop making attempts to socialize and will continue to acquire clutter.
What is toxic positivity?
Toxic positivity is that dismissive, “look on the bright side, it will all be fine” kind of language. It’s looking for the silver-lining too soon in the emotional process. It’s invalidating someone’s emotions, and it’s shaming someone for having so-called negative emotions. It’s telling someone to “smile more” (gag!), that it “could be worse”, and “everything happens for a reason”. While many of these things are true (smiling can help, it probably could be worse, and everything does happen for a reason), telling someone these things while they are dealing with heavy emotions drives disconnection and makes them feel worse. That’s why it’s called “toxic positivity”.
Examples of toxic positivity are:
- Telling someone (or yourself) to stop being so negative is a classic example of toxic positivity. It’s important to talk about what’s going on, both the good and the bad. However, many people can get stuck on a negative spiral, and almost get addicted to thinking about and speaking about negativity. Also, a lot of people want to bond with others, and the only way they know how is through complaining. Neither of these scenarios are healthy, but telling someone to stop being so negative or to stop complaining will only drive disconnection. Rapport and trust must be built before telling someone to stop being negative, and this message must be delivered when the time is right.
- If someone just shared some disappointing news, or is talking about a rough time they are going through, saying “you’ll get over it” and changing the subject, is probably the last thing they want to hear. This tells the person that they don’t matter, and invalidates their feelings.
- When someone just opened up about their struggles, comparing them to other people who “have it worse” instills a sense of guilt for the people who have it worse, and shame for the fact that they are struggling over something so minor in comparison. Not cool.
- If someone is really upset and crying, telling them to “just smile” or “cheer up” is not a nice thing to do. While it may feel uncomfortable to sit and watch someone cry, this isn’t about your comfort. Allowing them to cry as much as they need to is part of the necessary process of releasing and expressing emotions.
- Saying something to the effect of “stay positive”, “keep your head up”, or “think happy thoughts” when someone is upset is another classic sign of toxic positivity. This makes them feel like they don’t have anyone to talk to, that they aren’t worthy of being listened to, and creates a sense of isolation.
Why it’s so problematic
When people experience toxic positivity, they don’t have the confidence to open up and share their vulnerable thoughts. They may hide how they feel about things, or feel shame for having anything less than positive thoughts. They will compare themselves to others who have it worse, and feel additional guilt for their struggles. Toxic positivity builds disconnection and distrust between others. When people feel disconnected from others, it creates addiction. And when people avoid their emotions, they persist and get worse.
What to do about it: navigating toxic positivity
A truly happy and peaceful home requires genuine positivity. On the quest to find this, it can be easy to get tangled up in the world of toxic positivity. Well-meaning people usually don’t mean to be spreading toxic positivity, but they don’t know any better. I know I have probably made the mistake of using toxic positively more times than I care to remember. People spreading toxic positivity think they are genuinely being helpful. This post is not to shame anyone for spreading toxic positivity, it’s to educate about what toxic positivity is so that people can make kinder choices. Communication is hard! And in the moment, it can be hard to think of what the “right” thing to say is. So be graceful with yourself and your friends. Educate yourself further on identifying toxic positivity, and share what you find with your friends. At the same time, educate yourself about “emotional dumping”, and why that’s a problem too! Emotional dumping is when venting gets out of control, and the conversation gets dominated by negativity. Find a balance between sharing both the good and the bad.
What to do about it: creating genuine positivity and optimism
It’s important to understand the difference between “real” emotions and “mind made” emotions. Real emotions are always calm. For example, a real sadness will always have a sense of calm to it, and a real joy will also feel calm. To get in touch with real emotions, it’s important to get out of your head, get re-acquainted with your body (feel your feet on the ground, your butt in the chair etc.) and connect to your 2nd chakra (located just below the belly button). Real emotions are stored in the second chakra. Warm your hands up and place them just below your belly button. Ask yourself how you are really feeling. Usually your real emotions are surprising, and are often the opposite of what your mind thinks you are feeling. Mind made emotions stem from the ego, which is drenched in fear. When someone is experiencing mind made emotions, they are usually spending a lot of time “up in their head”, catastrophizing, and thinking the worst.
It’s important to honor how you feel, and to identify if these are real emotions or from the ego. It’s important to give a voice to the feelings from the ego. Acknowledge them, but reassure your ego that “you (your higher self) got this!” Adulting is managing the ego and not letting it take control.
Like I was saying in the examples, thinking negative thoughts and complaining can be very addictive! While it is important to acknowledge negativity, it’s also important to learn how to recognize when your ego has gone down a rabbit hole, so you can do some course correction. As soon as you notice that you’re going down a negative spiral, take note of what you’re thinking about. This is called metacognition. Decide if that’s a good time to be thinking about it, or if you want to revisit the thought at a later time. Make a note on your calendar to give your ego some time to express its concerns (just as a good parent (or dog parent) would allow their child (or dog) to share their complaints, but they wouldn’t allow the child (or dog) to complain non-stop). It can be a good idea to have a dedicated time during the week to meet with yourself to see which emotions need to be addressed. It can also be very healthy to practice expressing emotions physically, like screaming into a pillow, punching a punching bag, or stomping on the ground and having a temper tantrum. While it’s important to do the mental and emotional work too, exercise is a great way of completing the physiological stress response. When the stress response is activated and hasn’t had a chance to complete the cycle, it wreaks havoc on the nervous system, which can attract even more negative thinking.
When I notice myself going down a negative spiral, I like to use this simple exercise to help me do the necessary emotional work to get back to authentic positivity.
Step 1: Identify the problem (the negative emotion and the cause). For example, “I am upset because I can’t find my keys.”
Step 2: State the facts: The keys are missing
Step 3: Is this something within your control? (Note: if the fact involves a human or animal, the first answer is always “NO” and in the “NO” find what you can do.)
Step 4: If yes: how do I solve it? I can check all my pockets, my purse, the door, and the car
If no: What’s the best you can do before letting it go? My best is that I can use my spare set until I can find the lost keys since I know they are somewhere at home.
Step 5: What are you grateful for in this situation? I am grateful that I have a spare set of keys.
Step 6: What lessons have you learned? I have learned to put a hook up for my keys to help me remember to put them in the same place everyday, and I’ve learned to get a Tile for my keychain so that I can find them if they get lost again.
Step 7: Get back to joy! Do something you like doing, listen to a good song, do a happy dance, or do anything that helps you get back to a place of authentic joy!
A final note
Rewiring your brain from to go from thinking predominantly negative thoughts to thinking predominantly positive thoughts is necessary for cultivating authentic happiness. However, it can be a lot of work. Neural pathways are formed by thinking similar beliefs or doing similar actions, and these pathways get strengthened with frequency and time. Through neuroplasticity, new neural pathways can get formed. With patience, new grooves will get created and thoughts will get re-routed. These new grooves will deepen with persistence and patience. Surround yourself with people that bring out the best in you, who help amplify your voice when you are expressing your authenticity, and who make you feel loved, adored and cherished. Don’t settle for any less!
By Jean Prominski, Certified Professional Organizer
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