What Is "Toxic Positivity" And How Can It Be Harmful?

Disclaimer:  Please keep in mind that I am not diagnosing anyone, I am not a licensed psychiatrist, and this post is based solely on my own opinions, experiences and research. Please also keep in mind that any mental health issues are always best addressed with a licensed psychiatrist in your area. This post is intended for informational purposes only. The information contained within the videos attached to this post are not necessarily the opinions and views of this website.

Additionally: Positivity including positive motivational and inspirational quotes, affirmations, proverbs and sayings are absolutely lovely and wonderful, except when used to harm another by a narcissist.

I'm sure we can all agree that positivity is... well, it's positive, right? Positivity is fantastic. Of course it is. But what is "toxic positivity" and how can it impact your life and worse, how can toxic positivity control you? 

And, what happens if "positivity" falls into the hands of a toxic narcissist?

As you probably know, narcissism is on a continuum; on a spectrum of sorts, that resides within everyone for the purposes of survival. When we discuss narcissism, we're referring to people who have more narcissistic traits on the continuum which means they have more of an ability to cause narcissistic damage. We also tend to often see overlap between the grandiose, "overt" narcissist and the hypersensitive-to-criticism fragile ego of the "covert" narcissist so there's oftentimes a sort of a blend of both overt and covert traits. 

So, how does this play into false positivity?

False positivity and denial are themes in the fragile, protective bubble that surrounds the narcissist's delicate and oftentimes volatile ego. 

We often see this in self-proclaimed gurus, yogis, light workers, energy healers or whatever they've entitled themselves as being in their carousel of grandiosity and denial.

They'll spend time posting and quoting their favorite gurus, yogis and motivational speakers so we'll believe that they, too are as wise as the origination of the quote. The worst offenders will even read through the work of their favorites as listed above, and will simply regurgitate the quotes into their own words for public consumption.  

There's a clearly marked propensity for narcissistic individuals to mirror and validate the suffering of others, and then subsequently regurgitate false positivity as though a giant word pacifier.

This is extremely damaging to those victims on the receiving end of these "word pacifiers" which end up just enabling the narcissists' grandiosity / magical thinking and also simultaneously invalidates the victim's feelings which is a form of narcissistic abuse.

Enlightened individuals who are truly authentic are not going to shove a word pacifier down your throat, nor are they going to mirror you and reverse blame onto you. 

I'm not saying motivational speakers are wrong, I'm saying that narcissistic people will absolutely use the language of motivational speakers in an attempt to lure, appease, impress or even pacify their victims. 

For example...

Have you ever said something along the lines of, "I'm in pain" or whatever it happens to be, and the person reflects back at you that they, too have experienced the same thing (mirroring --> misery loves company) and then gaslighted you by spewing forth pearls of wisdom followed by mantras or quotes? 

Or worse, they advise you to reflect on whatever you're experiencing; pain, sadness, loneliness, etc., and imply or in some cases even tell you directly that it's YOUR FAULT that you're experiencing your feelings?

What that actually translates to is, "You're not looking at your pain from the right perspective, think this way and you'll feel better/won't feel pain anymore." 

Here's an example.

An example would be if we told a therapist that we're in pain because someone hurt us, and the therapist told us that all we had to do was reverse it. In this scenario, Jane would be upset because her boyfriend, we'll call him Bob, is ignoring her. So Jane would say, "I'm mad and hurt by Bob because Bob is ignoring me." Nope, instead say, "I'm mad at myself because I'm ignoring myself." Seriously?

Now, let's look at this logically. Is Jane actually ignoring herself? Of course she isn't. She's feeling hurt and knows she's feeling that hurt, so how could Jane be ignoring herself at all? Quite the contrary, as Jane actually feels that hurt and would very much like it to stop. She's not ignoring herself or her feelings at all. By reversing it, Jane has not only told herself that she's ignoring herself which she clearly isn't doing, but Jane has simultaneously shifted blame for Bob's poor behavior onto herself.

A cycle such as this one could reasonably NEVER end.

Jane could literally ask for AND accept personal blame for absolutely every negative thought or feeling she ever experiences. It's extremely INVALIDATING and is exactly like saying "feeling bad is somehow wrong, I'm not allowed to feel bad, I must take all blame for bad feelings and therefore, everything including all my feelings are wrong." 

Not only is that INVALIDATING but it's TOXIC POSITIVITY. 

In other words, narcissistic toxic positivity disguised as all "love and light." 

Don't get me wrong; inspirational quotes, mantras, proverbs and affirmations are fantastic! But when someone INVALIDATES your feelings or worse, mirrors you and reverses blame, it's galling.

And the really bad offenders will literally SEEK OUT those who are in pain in order to feed off their empathy and pain so they can further their fragile ego bubble of denial. 

Here's an example.

Victim:  "I'm in pain because I'm sad and lonely."

Narcissistic Person's Response:  "You should look inside you and find out why you feel the way you do because if you'd just view it from this other perspective, then you wouldn't be so sad. I am in the same situation yet I feel happy. So you're just looking at it from the wrong perspective. Here's a positive quote from Rumi on sadness and loneliness." 

(Blame shifted to victim, "if you'd just do this then...," stolen "wisdom," fragile ego bubble is clear, narcissistic mirroring --> misery loves company disguised as validation, regurgitated pearls of wisdom, dismissive, "everything's great, you're wrong to feel the way you do, just shift your perspective" mentality.)

Normal / Enlightened Person's Response:  "I'm so sorry you're feeling that way. That sounds like a painful situation. I understand why you feel that way because I've been there too. Feelings are normal and okay to have. Here's my opinion about how I'd handle it if it were me... "

(Empathy felt and shown through validation of feelings, reassurance and comfort offered, and lastly assistance offered.) 

With an enlightened person, we see there's room for the possibility that their (opinion) is their own and isn't necessarily going to be right for the other person. A narcissist LACKS A FIRM SENSE OF SELF so they might mirror back to you whatever you're experiencing, in other words (their) own perspective of how they interpret you, with no room for further understanding or learning. 

With the narcissist we will oftentimes get the feeling they have empathy for our situation as narcissists are master manipulators and faking empathy is one of their skills. However, there's usually an overall vibe of  "this is how it is," with little or no room for the possibility of anything different.

Additionally, the narcissist will often take personal solace in the fact that Rumi (or whatever motivational speaker they decide to quote today) must've been right, therefore by using their regurgitated words, they've ensured themselves to also be "right" with again, little or no room for any other possibility.

Enlightened people know that feelings are valid, and that they're not always "all of one way." feelings are not all always positive, or all always negative.

An enlightened person knows it's not only okay to FEEL AND EXPERIENCE THEIR FEELINGS but also that the feelings they have ARE OKAY TO VALIDATE.

And, enlightened people also know that it's unhealthy to stuff your feelings, and know it's normal to have some good days and some bad days, sometimes feel both good and bad and every shade of grey in between. And sometimes, people even have what's called mixed feelings.

Enlightened people know that people in general, and the feelings they experience are not always "all good" or by contrast, always "all bad."

This also rings true for relationships. Jane might think Bob has many good traits. But Bob might also have some negative traits along with those good ones. So the feelings she has about Bob are not always going to be the same. She may experience both positive and negative feelings toward Bob. 

Now again, I'm not knocking spirituality or positivity; as most of you know I consider myself to be very spiritual and I absolutely love positivity. I even adore positive affirmations and will re-post the ones I feel might be helpful, or just brighten your day.

It's when toxic "positivity" becomes weaponized by narcissists that I have to agree with Ramani in the respect that there's a clearly marked difference between having a positive attitude or at least trying to, and holding onto narcissistic, unhealthy magical thinking. 

Here are some videos by Dr. Ramani Durvasula on the subject of "Toxic Positivity" that you may find very interesting.

 


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