I follow a lot of self-professed spiritual and business teachers/coaches. Some of them preach hustle. They call it the “CEO mindset.” They encourage you to “think like a CEO” and boast about their new luxury cars, their custom-built homes, their designer bags. You can have those things too – if you buy their program for several thousand dollars to learn their secrets and hustle until you don’t have to hustle anymore. Don’t forget the whole “think like a CEO” thing which involves operating at a constant high vibration. Work for what you want and you will have it!
Others teach a more passive approach. There’s no need to hustle. Abundance comes “with ease.” You just have to be positive and have high vibes and trust that the universe will deliver soulmate clients. No real work needs to be done. Just sit back and let the universe drop coins in your lap.
I’ll be the first to put up my hand and say I believe in manifestation and the law of attraction. I’ve had too much experience manifesting things into my life (with the help of aligned action – no coins or cars have just “dropped” into my lap). I will also be the first to say I believe in the power of positive thought.
And I will be first and loudest to say it’s all bullshit if you aren’t addressing your mental health and the wounds and baggage you’re carrying around with you. You know, that dirty laundry you’re trying to keep hidden in the back of the house where no one, not even you, will see it. That room that’s full of junk. The catch-all drawer in the kitchen. You get what I’m talking about – the dirty secrets you don’t want anyone to know about.
Let’s talk about toxic positivity.
Toxic positivity – the belief that one should remain positive in any and all circumstances – rejects feeling anything negative or difficult. Toxic positivity is telling yourself “everything happens for a reason!” when experiencing a loss or searching for a silver lining when life is hard. It’s willing yourself into a better mood when you’re experiencing anxiety or depression or just having a crap day. It’s trying to look on the bright side. Find the silver lining. See the other side of the coin. Just believe the good things you want in life will come if your vibration is high enough.
I’m a recovering toxic positivity addict. I have tried (and failed) to redirect my thoughts, to lean into the idea that “everything happens for a reason,” to be all positivity all the time. I have felt the frustration around being in a spiral of anxiety and not being able to pull myself out of it because gosh dammit, I’m not supposed to feel these negative emotions. I’m supposed to be high vibe! How will good things happen for me if I’m not high vibe?!
Thinking myself into good vibes didn’t work.
It didn’t work because you have to feel your feels and address your crap.
Negative feelings and emotions are just as valid as positive ones. If we allow ourselves to experience the less than pleasant stuff, we learn from it. We identify what those crap feelings are trying to tell us about ourselves. We find where we need to heal.
Sitting with the hard stuff is, well, hard. It’s easier to slap a “good vibes!” bandage on our hurt and pain because who wants to deal with that stuff? Not me. Probably not you either. Yet in sitting in those hard feelings, I have learned so much about who I am, where those thoughts come from, and what I need to do to heal from them.
I ugly cried in the barre studio on Saturday. I was working on my test out video with our lead instructor and it wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t bad – in fact, it was exactly on track for where it should have been less than a week out of training – but it wasn’t what I had identified as acceptable. The harder I tried to perfect it, the worse I got. The choreography fell out of my head, I went blank on what to say, I couldn’t count music… I had memorized the choreography days earlier, I never run out of things to say (for better or worse), and I have been counting beats in music since joining a cheerleading squad in fourth grade. But in that moment, I couldn’t do any of those things.
I had a full blown meltdown.
My instinct was to keep going, keep pushing. And at first, I did. I started over again and again. I kept telling myself “I CAN do this.” I was beating myself up for not being able to do it perfectly. The more positive I tried to be, the worse it got until the tears started to fall and I knew it was time to walk away for the day.
Once I was home, I didn’t do what I would have done in the past – found any and all ways to cheer myself up, be it through treating myself to a pint of ice cream or buying myself something shiny and new, things that don’t actually help. More bandages, if you will. Instead, I made myself sit on the couch and feel through all the negative feelings. I identified where my battle with perfectionism comes from and gave myself the grace to be upset about a very deep, very old wound. Then I gave myself permission to heal that wound.
I didn’t feel better right away.
In fact, I felt pretty crappy for the rest of the night. This is a very old, very deep wound that I have worked on healing before and will work on healing again. It comes from a long (long) history of trying to be perfect, to validate myself through good grades and gold stars. In my head, perfect makes up for other shortcomings that I’ve made up about myself. Lies I’ve said so often to myself that I’ve come to believe them and try to “make up” for them by being “perfect.”
I sat on my couch after a good hard cry, watched bad Netflix reality TV, and had Chick-Fil-A for dinner. I meant to go to bed early, but I ended up staying awake until nearly two in the morning, lost in reading a story I wrote six years ago. I let myself feel the negative feelings and process why I was having them. I mended the wound a little more.
I woke up the next morning in a better headspace and a little further down the line of healing that gaping wound. I did the work of addressing the hard stuff head on and while it sucked in the middle, it helped me in the long run.
Toxic positivity is, in fact, toxic. It tells us not to let the hurt or the pain in. It tells us to put up a wall, ignore half of our being. It tells us that we are allowing bad things to happen if we make room for “bad” feelings. But feelings aren’t “good” or “bad.” They are a scale, so to speak, of where we are mentally and emotionally. They help us navigate, grow.
Toxic positivity is dangerous. While there is power in positive thinking, there is also harm in forcing ourselves into CEO mindsets or “positive vibes.” There is harm in sitting back expecting the universe to deliver just because you thought good thoughts all day. There is harm in not facing the dark parts of ourselves.
For those who suffer with clinical depression or crippling anxiety, the risks of toxic positivity multiplies. Sometimes it does require a therapist, medication, and other tools to work through dark feelings and anxious thoughts. There is no shame in that, but toxic positivity can lead one to believe otherwise.
It’s not fun to invite the hard stuff in, but there is growth and there is healing when you do. It is brave to let the negative and difficult in. Take what resonates from these business and spiritual coaches – I still follow them and I’m a coach too, after all – but don’t forget to feel your feels. You don’t have to be positive and high vibe all the time. You’re allowed to be a human too.
You need to be human.
Don’t forget that.