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By sheilah Davis
The Most Central Goal of the Positive Psychology Movement: Seeking Authenticity Over Toxic Positivity
The goal of the positive psychology movement is to seek authenticity over toxic positivity. Positive psychology, as a domain of psychology, aims to promote happiness, well-being, and fulfillment by focusing on positive experiences, emotions, traits, and relationships. However, the pursuit of positivity can sometimes lead to toxic positivity, which is the excessive and insincere focus on positive thinking and emotions, while denying or invalidating negative ones. In this article, I will explain the dangers of toxic positivity and the benefits of authenticity, and provide practical tips on how to cultivate authenticity in your life.
Introduction to Positive Psychology
Positive psychology is a relatively new field of psychology that emerged in the late 1990s, thanks to the pioneering work of Martin Seligman, a former president of the American Psychological Association. Seligman proposed a shift in psychology from a focus on pathology and disorders to a focus on strengths and virtues, with the aim of enhancing human flourishing and resilience. Positive psychology emphasizes the study of positive emotions (such as happiness, gratitude, and love), positive traits (such as optimism, resilience, and kindness), positive experiences (such as flow, meaning, and purpose), and positive relationships (such as social support, intimacy, and empathy).
Positive psychology has several applications, such as in education, health, business, and therapy. For example, positive psychology interventions (such as gratitude journaling, mindfulness meditation, and acts of kindness) have been shown to improve well-being, reduce stress, boost immune function, and enhance creativity. Positive psychology also emphasizes the importance of positive education, positive health, positive work, and positive therapy, which focus on promoting positive experiences, emotions, traits, and relationships in these domains.
The Most Central Goal of the Positive Psychology Movement
The most central goal of the positive psychology movement is to promote human flourishing by cultivating positive experiences, emotions, traits, and relationships. However, this goal is not achieved by denying or invalidating negative experiences, emotions, traits, and relationships. Rather, it is achieved by integrating them into a balanced and authentic perspective. Authenticity means being true to oneself, expressing one’s genuine feelings and thoughts, and pursuing one’s own values and goals, rather than conforming to external expectations or norms.
Toxic positivity, on the other hand, is a form of emotional suppression and invalidation that can lead to negative consequences. Toxic positivity involves denying or minimizing negative emotions (such as sadness, anger, and fear) and imposing positive emotions (such as happiness, joy, and enthusiasm) on oneself or others, regardless of the context or the underlying reality. Toxic positivity can create pressure to be positive all the time, to hide or suppress negative emotions, to avoid difficult situations, to blame oneself or others for not being positive enough, and to feel guilty or ashamed for being unhappy.
Understanding Toxic Positivity
Toxic positivity is a common phenomenon that can be observed in various contexts, such as social media, workplaces, schools, and families. Toxic positivity can be expressed in many forms, such as:
- “Just think positive and everything will be fine.”
- “Don’t worry, be happy.”
- “It could be worse, be grateful for what you have.”
- “Negative vibes only attract negative things.”
- “You’re too negative, you need to change your attitude.”
- “I’m fine, everything is great, don’t bother me.”
Toxic positivity can be harmful for several reasons. Firstly, it can invalidate and dismiss the genuine emotions and experiences of oneself or others, which can lead to feelings of loneliness, isolation, and invalidation. Secondly, it can create unrealistic expectations and pressure to be positive all the time, which can lead to burnout, anxiety, and depression. Thirdly, it can prevent constructive and authentic communication and problem-solving, which can lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, and resentment. Fourthly, it can reinforce systemic inequalities and injustices by denying or ignoring the negative experiences of marginalized and oppressed groups, which can lead to further harm and trauma.
The Dangers of Toxic Positivity
Toxic positivity can have several dangers that can negatively impact one’s mental health and well-being. These dangers include:
Suppression of Negative Emotions
Toxic positivity can lead to suppression of negative emotions, which can have negative consequences in the long term. When one suppresses negative emotions, they do not get the chance to process and resolve them, which can lead to emotional numbness, dissociation, and detachment. Suppressing negative emotions can also lead to physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, and fatigue.
Disconnection from Authentic Self
Toxic positivity can lead to disconnection from one’s authentic self, which can lead to a lack of self-awareness and self-acceptance. When one denies or suppresses negative emotions, they also deny or suppress a part of themselves, which can lead to a sense of fragmentation and disintegration. Disconnection from one’s authentic self can also lead to a lack of meaning, purpose, and direction in life.
Invalidation of Others’ Experiences
Toxic positivity can lead to invalidation of others’ experiences, which can harm relationships and create misunderstandings. When one imposes positivity on others, they deny or minimize the reality of their struggles, pain, and suffering, which can lead to a lack of empathy, compassion, and support. Invalidating others’ experiences can also reinforce power dynamics and privilege, by ignoring or downplaying the experiences of marginalized and oppressed groups.
Authenticity as a Key Component of Positive Psychology
Authenticity is a key component of positive psychology, as it promotes self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-expression. Authenticity means being true to oneself, expressing one’s genuine feelings and thoughts, and pursuing one’s own values and goals, rather than conforming to external expectations or norms. Authenticity involves a sense of congruence between one’s inner experience and outer expression, which can enhance well-being, resilience, and relationships.
Authenticity can be cultivated through various practices, such as:
Mindfulness is a practice of paying attention to the present moment, non-judgmentally, and with curiosity and compassion. Mindfulness can enhance self-awareness, emotional regulation, and empathy, which are essential for authenticity. Mindfulness can help one to observe and accept their thoughts, feelings, and sensations, without judging or reacting to them. Mindfulness can also help one to connect with their values, goals, and aspirations, and to align their behavior with them.
Self-reflection is a practice of examining one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, in order to gain insights and understanding. Self-reflection can enhance self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-expression, which are essential for authenticity. Self-reflection can help one to identify their strengths, weaknesses, and values, and to develop a sense of purpose and meaning. Self-reflection can also help one to learn from their mistakes, failures, and challenges, and to grow and evolve.
Self-compassion is a practice of treating oneself with kindness, care, and understanding, especially in times of difficulty and suffering. Self-compassion can enhance self-acceptance, self-love, and self-worth, which are essential for authenticity. Self-compassion involves acknowledging one’s humanity, imperfections, and struggles, and offering oneself the same compassion and support that one would offer to a friend. Self-compassion can also help one to reduce self-criticism, self-blame, and self-doubt, and to increase self-esteem, self-confidence, and resilience.
How to Cultivate Authenticity in Your Life
Cultivating authenticity in your life can be a transformative and fulfilling process, but it requires intentional and consistent effort. Here are some practical tips on how to cultivate authenticity in your life:
- Set aside some time each day to practice mindfulness, such as meditation, yoga, or breathing exercises.
- Notice your thoughts, feelings, and sensations, without judging or reacting to them.
- Focus on the present moment, rather than worrying about the past or the future.
- Cultivate a sense of curiosity and compassion towards yourself and others.
- Connect with your values, goals, and aspirations, and align your behavior with them.
Engage in Self-Reflection
- Make time for self-reflection, such as journaling, introspection, or therapy.
- Ask yourself questions such as: Who am I? What do I value? What are my strengths and weaknesses? What do I want to achieve?
- Use your insights to guide your decisions, actions, and relationships.
- Learn from your mistakes, failures, and challenges, and use them as opportunities for growth and learning.
- Seek feedback and support from trusted others, and be open to constructive criticism and advice.
- Treat yourself with kindness, care, and understanding, especially in times of difficulty and suffering.
- Offer yourself words of encouragement, support, and comfort, as you would to a friend.
- Acknowledge your humanity, imperfections, and struggles, and accept them with compassion and empathy.
- Practice self-care, such as taking breaks, relaxing, and engaging in activities that bring you joy and fulfillment.
- Set realistic and achievable goals, and celebrate your progress and achievements.
The Benefits of Authenticity Over Toxic Positivity
Cultivating authenticity in your life can have several benefits that can enhance your mental health and well-being. These benefits include:
Authenticity can enhance emotional regulation, as it allows one to acknowledge and express their genuine emotions, rather than suppressing or denying them. Emotional regulation can lead to a sense of balance, stability, and resilience, which can prevent burnout, anxiety, and depression.
Authenticity can enhance self-awareness, as it allows one to connect with their inner experience, and to understand their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Self-awareness can lead to a sense of clarity, insight, and self-acceptance, which can promote self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth.
Authenticity can enhance relationships, as it allows one to express their genuine feelings and thoughts, and to connect with others on a deeper and more meaningful level. Authentic relationships can lead to a sense of intimacy, trust, and support, which can promote social support, empathy, and compassion.
Conclusion: Apply Authenticity in Your Life
Apply authenticity in your life, by cultivating mindfulness, self-reflection, and self-compassion, and by embracing your genuine emotions and experiences. Authenticity can enhance your well-being, resilience, and relationships, and prevent the negative consequences of toxic positivity. Remember, authenticity is not about being perfect, positive, or conforming, but about being true to yourself, and living a fulfilling and meaningful life. So, be authentic, be yourself, and flourish!