All good vibes only! Sounds great, doesn’t it? Hang on, on second thought, it’s a classic example of “toxic” positivity.
When I first read about “toxic” positivity on themighty.com, my eyes did a double take. How could something positive be negative at the same time? Sounds like an oxymoron I thought to myself. Intrigued, I read on and couldn’t agree more with the idea. In fact, most of us are likely to receive some “positive” phrases by others when we are feeling down or stressed out. “Just be happy”, “don’t think so much”, “don’t over-react”.
On the surface, these words masquerade as helpful, positive advice. In reality, they are abstract pieces of information that often make the receiver feel more frustrated or demoralized; as if something is wrong with him or her. It can sometimes even feel like rubbing salt into the wound. In addition, they may trigger the wrong response from someone who is already highly stressed and anxious from burnout. Hence the term “toxic” positivity. Most importantly however is that phrases such as these beget the question “How to?” How do I start being happier or How can I stop thinking so much or over-reacting?
When I hear the words “Don’t think so much” and “don’t overreact” – they really grate on me – as if I didn’t know better… Just pause for a second and reflect on this next sentence – if a person could stop “thinking so much”, they would have done so long ago! Information alone rarely leads to action – in reality, knowledge is only as powerful as its application. The solution is then moving away from giving abstract advice to someone and tailoring it to something practical and personal. In his book “The Tipping Point”, Malcolm Gladwell demonstrated the following concept – once a piece of advice becomes practical and personal, it becomes memorable and therefore, easier to apply.
In a similar vein, Professor B.J. Fogg of the Persuasion Tech Lab at Stanford University suggests enhancing one’s ability to make a behavioural change by making the commitment act simple. “Lose 14 pounds”, for example, isn’t simple and concrete, but “Take the stairs instead of the lift” is.
If you know someone experiencing burnout, support him or her with validation and hope instead of “toxic” positivity. Be a generous listener. Frame your words appropriately so as to encourage someone. By turning your words around, you can turn the other person around. This way, we align our intentions with the words that we speak. As the Bible says, death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21).
How do we start? Simple! Start replacing toxic phrases such as “don’t think so much”, “stop being so negative” , “calm down” with the following:
- “I believe in you”;
- “I’m here for you. Together we will overcome this.”;
- “I can see how difficult it must be for you. Let’s see how we can move forward together”;
- “Let’s take it just one step at a time.”, and
- Encourage the person you are supporting to declare aloud the following:
“Right now I’m absolutely confident because God is with me. Therefore I cannot go down!”
“Right now I’m absolutely confident because the Bible reminds me that I am more than a conqueror in Christ!”
Focus on reinforcing and validating the other person’s identity and self-worth and see his or her face light up. I would certainly love to receive validation and hope instead of careless “toxic positivity”, wouldn’t you?
Let’s end on this note by American novelist Shaunta Grimes: “Everyone is grieving. Everyone is hurting. Everyone has some pain that they keep hidden away. It’s shocking how just a small amount of basic human kindness — even just the act of noticing another human being — can make all the difference.
Sometimes all it takes to be the rainbow in someone’s cloud is to pay attention…..”
Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.
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