11. The Negativity of Positivity

Jun 25, 2024

Just like with many aspects of life, having too much of a good thing can be detrimental. This applies to positivity as well, often referred to as toxic positivity. Today we are exploring this concept and its impact on women who are childless not by choice. Excessively positive statements can minimize grief, create isolation, and hinder emotional healing.

I offer listeners tips on identifying and managing toxic positivity, both for those who are childless and for those seeking to support a family member or friend. It is important to acknowledge pain, set boundaries, and validate emotions to provide genuine support and facilitate healing.

Learn more or book a free, no-obligation call to talk about what a coaching experience could look like for you HERE.

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The negativity of positivity
Key Episode Takeaways:
  • There comes a point when too much positivity can become harmful. 
  • Some positive comments can feel dismissive and invalidate your pain.
  • Toxic positivity gets in the way of healing.
Listen to the Full Episode:
Full Episode Transcript:

Hi, you're listening to Childless and Moving Onward. This is the place where we talk about thriving in life when you're a woman who is childless, not by choice, regardless of the road that brought you to childlessness.   Welcome to Episode 11 of Childless and Moving Onward. We are talking about the negativity of positivity. I absolutely love this title. I can't take credit for it because I didn't come up with it. Um, I got this from an amazing person, an amazing award winning video strategist, Kim Rittberg, who, um, I just love working with. And, um, as I was speaking to her about what I do and some of the triggers and challenges of childlessness, she came up with this title and it just really struck me. This is like, Oh, wow, that, that really resonates. And it's clever. I love it. But it's also, it makes it really clear what this is about and that positivity isn't all positive, right? So we're going to delve into this topic. That may seem counterintuitive at first, the negativity of positivity. Yeah, you heard that right. I'm going to explore the darker side of what is commonly seen as a good thing, positivity. In our culture, more often than not, we are encouraged, to say the least, that's an understatement, we're encouraged to stay positive, look on the bright side, keep smiling, right? There's no doubt that a positive outlook can be beneficial. That positive affirmations are healthy, that you get more of what you look to. So, there is benefit to, like, looking at the positive, having a positive outlook. But, like, as with everything, too much of a good thing can be bad, right? Yeah, I'll take a little bit of this Tylenol. Oh, a little bit works, I'll keep taking more. Yeah, no, you can end up in a whole lot of trouble with that. And emotional medicine can be overdosed as well. So there's a point where the positivity can become harmful. And that is toxic positivity. But when I say, when I've talked about this, um, as, as I'm finishing up my book, I talk about toxic positivity in the book, but when I first brought it up with the person I'm working with on this, the publisher, they were like, what does that mean? And then when I explained it. Oh, okay, and I wrote about it, and they read that, and they're like, okay, this makes sense. But when you say the negativity of positivity, like, okay, that makes it clear. You may not understand why, someone may not understand why positivity can be negative, but you get the gist that, okay, there's something bad about it. Our society pushes positivity only. And it's, it's celebrated to just be positive and it's also celebrated or what is also celebrated as parenthood as the pinnacle of personal achievement. So when your childless not by choice facing not just the pain of your unfulfilled dreams, but you're also facing the harm of positivity that's gone wild or toxic positivity. I like to think that people are generally well meaning but the real effect of it is harm. Okay. So what exactly is toxic positivity? It's the over generalization of a happy optimistic state across all situations. So for someone whose child is not by choice, the comments like, well, everything happens for a reason, or maybe it's for the best, that can feel dismissive. It invalidates your genuine pain and grief. Here's a simple example. This isn't about childlessness, but it kind of helps in the understanding of what toxic positivity is in general. Imagine telling a friend about a bad day that you had at work, a challenging day, and their response is, well, at least you have a job. Okay, yeah, I'm grateful I have a job when I know others don't, but it doesn't mean you can't have challenges with it. And so while that friend's intention might be to make you feel better, instead it can make you feel misunderstood and invalidated. Yes, I'm fortunate I have a job and yeah, I have days that are just crap and you're allowed. And you're allowed to talk about it. But toxic positivity worsens the struggles that come with being childless, not by choice. So what it does, first of all, it minimizes grief. When people respond to childlessness with overly positive statements, it can minimize the real and profound grief that comes with this. So, Oh, well, you know, at least you don't have to deal with teenagers or, you know, kids are so expensive, you're lucky. Or it could be worse. Your grief is treated like it's excessive, like it's unwarranted. So you as a person are being treated as if you are weak because you have negative feelings. I personally don't like the labels negative and positive because because of the messaging we get it leads to an either or thinking for one thing. And because the connotations that come with negative, like they're bad,. They're not. They're human feelings. The second thing that toxic negativity does when your childless not by choice is it creates more isolation. So the constant exposure to the toxic positivity, it just enhances that isolation. If every attempt you make to share genuine feelings, genuine human feelings, if every time you try to share that you're met with a positive spin, you begin to feel like you're alone in these struggles. Because who can you turn to? Who can you speak to if you can't speak your truth? It is incredibly isolating. The third effect that this has, it adds to the shame and guilt. So positive platitudes can leave you feeling ashamed of your grief. You feel guilty for not being able to maintain a positive attitude about your situation. You're left with a feeling as if there's something wrong of you, with you, because you can't control your emotions. Yeah, you can. You're human. And the human experience includes the spectrum of emotions. And none are bad, none are good. And they're all to be valued and respected. The fourth part of this, the effects of this toxic positivity when you're childless by circumstance, not by choice, is the bottom line is it gets in the way of healing. Authentic emotional processing is, it's not just important, it's crucial for healing. The toxic positivity gets in the way of, of being able to process the pain. Because it encourages you, what it does is it leaves you thinking you need to suppress the negative, the challenging, the uncomfortable emotions instead of working through them. You do not heal if you don't work through all of your emotions. But the start is to recognize this. Recognize toxic positivity. So what is it? Like this, I'm talking about it sort of in terms of like theory, but what is it in real life? How do you know when it happens, especially since we've been so programmed to think this is okay and we're in the wrong for if it bothers us or if we can't think positively. So here's a few things that will be said that kind of like, okay, this is toxic positivity. If your emotions are dismissed with things like, don't be sad, just be happy. If your experience is minimized with, you know, it could be worse. If you're shamed or chastised for expressing frustration or anything other than positivity, it'll sound something like you shouldn't feel that way, but there's other ways. If you're being criticised in any way for expressing, uncomfortable emotions, you're being shamed. If you're experiencing someone trying to shift your perspective, without also acknowledging your pain. Look on the bright side. No, think about the positive, you know, you can think about the positive, but along with that, acknowledge the pain. I'm here for you. I see you are in pain, but usually it's just, Oh, find the positive in this, flip it around and do something positive. Okay, I can do that, but I also first need to acknowledge and work through the pain. And so does everybody else. So here's a real life situation of the toxic positivity when it comes to childlessness. Um, this person who I'll call Sarah, she had had years of infertility treatments without success. And as she was going through this, she'd hear from family, friends, colleagues, things like, well, at least you have more freedom without kids. All that did was make her feel like her grief was being brushed aside, like it was excessive, that she shouldn't feel it because she had this positive. So just focus on that and forget about all this that you're going through. And then there was Gina, who had health issues that would make pregnancy a danger for her health, could risk her life. Um, people were pushing other options on her, but of course the other options were all prefaced with, well, just do. Just adopt. Just have a surrogate. As if any of these things are just simple and easy to do, just go do them. They were not, none of them are simple. Every situation is complex and none of this worked for her for a variety of reasons. It's really nobody's business why. She doesn't owe anyone an explanation. But in response to her grief, she would hear from people things like, You're lucky you didn't have to deal with the terrible twos. You know, kids are expensive. Okay, I know of no parent who would say, Yeah, I wish I didn't have my kids because then I would have more money and could do, do, you know, X, Y, and Z. No, I don't know of any parent who would give up their children for that and yet this is, these are the kinds of things that are said. She was completely dismissed, as was her grief. So for anyone who is listening now, because you're here to help someone you care about who is Childless by circumstance, not by choice. If you're here to find a way to offer support in a more understanding and compassionate way, here's a few tips. The first is acknowledge their pain. Validate their emotions by acknowledging the difficulty of the situation. Simple phrases like, I'm so sorry you're going through this or, it must be hard. That is comforting, much more comforting than attempts to find a silver lining. The second is, don't offer advice or solutions. Instead, be empathetic. Don't try to fix the problem. Don't give unsolicited advice. Just be there. Listen. Be a shoulder to lean on. Sometimes, oftentimes, words aren't what someone wants wants when they're grieving, when they're in pain. Sometimes the best support is just to be present, and I don't just mean physically, emotionally. That presence is felt, but when you, if it's not genuine and you just think that it's sitting there physically and being off somewhere else mentally, that's not supportive. The person you're there with will sense it. So just know that being there and actively listening is what they need. And that is genuine support. The third is, please don't compare. Don't compare their situations to others or suggest that another situation could be worse. Pain is pain. Every person's pain is unique and it deserves to be treated that way. Not that it's less than or more than someone else's. The fourth tip for helping someone you care about who is childless not by choice to support them, is to encourage them to express their emotions. That can be uncomfortable for the person on the receiving end, especially if you, this is not what you do, when you're not used to it, but get past your own discomfort at their discomfort. So that's the thing. It's actually easy to be there to allow them to express themselves because you don't have to give them advice. You don't have to have the solution for them. You don't have to think of something clever to say. In fact, you shouldn't. Very simple statements of, I'm here for you, this must be hard. That's all that's needed. So, give them a safe space to express their feelings and do it without judgment. Let them know that whatever they're feeling is okay. There's no bad feelings or good feelings. Let them know it's okay for them to feel sad, to be angry, to be frustrated, whatever emotions they're feeling. Now, on the flip side, for those of you who are childless by circumstance, not by choice, here are my three tips for you. The first is recognize the signs of toxic positivity. I'm saying that because it's become so second nature, so part of society that you're just supposed to think positive that sometimes we've moved away from recognizing that no, that's not okay. But it's important to recognize those signs because if you don't, you can easily be pulled into believing that the person who's doing this is right, that it's okay to be doing this and that you are wrong for feeling the way that you do. If someone is forcing you to hide your feelings, to pretend they're not there, to minimize them, or they are in any way invalidating your feelings. That's toxic positivity and it is not okay. The second tip, don't ignore your feelings. All of our emotions are here to tell us something, to let us know something. Your pain is part of the human experience and you are not less than because you allow negative emotions. No, you're not less than, you are human. The third tip is establish boundaries. Sometimes that means telling someone outright that what they're pushing on you is toxic positivity and it's wrong. They need to stop. They need to know you need a safe space to feel the way you feel. So sometimes it just means teaching that person. Some people are teachable. Some people will listen and be like, Oh, Okay, I get your point and I will stop. So when you're dealing with someone who you know will listen or you think might be open to that, let them know that what they're doing is harmful and you need to feel safe to feel what you're feeling because you can't heal without them. Other times though, it's someone who you know, they're not going to listen and boundaries then means staying away from them, and that's okay. Sometimes it's temporary. Sometimes it's permanent. Either way, setting that boundary is healthy, because you're taking care of yourself. It's for your own well being, and it's nothing that you should feel guilty about. Boundaries are healthy. 📍 Alright, that is it for today. I'll see you next week. Thanks for joining me.   I appreciate you listening. I hope this episode was helpful to you. If you liked what you heard, schedule a free discovery call with me to see how I can help you to feel worthy and live a fulfilling life. To schedule, click on the link in the episode notes or you can find it on my website at pathonward. com. You can also see more from me on Instagram at Childless Path Onward and Facebook and YouTube at Path Onward. Until next week, thanks again for listening.