So, before I get started on this, I want to address toxic positivity. The definition seems to be no matter the circumstances, a person maintains a positive attitude. The pushback is being positive all the time overrides emotions somehow lessening them. I think the pushback is well intended, but misplaced because:
- “Toxic” is a strong word. I could see “overly positive”, “too positive”, or even “annoyingly positive”. But toxic implies that something is poisonous or harmful;
- We must remember that if someone is being positive that is their emotion. Our reaction to their positivity is our emotion; and
- Simply labeling something as “toxic positivity” seems like an easy way to dismiss a point of view.
The above tends to ignore the benefit of what being positive can do to help your mindset, and your communication. My grandma would have said throwing out the baby with the bathwater, and she was much brighter than me so I will not try to improve on the saying. I will simply say someone that seems to be positive all the time probably is not, and if we believe humans genuinely try to be good people most of time, then perhaps we should give the person some grace (more on that later) and see the benefit in what they are saying. You know, to approach it with positivity?
Now granted, the idea of showing gratitude daily and looking for the good in every situation can be daunting. And for me, writing down those gratitudes each day can become a chore. I mean, you can only write “sunshine, happiness and hope” so many times. Really, it can be counter-productive because we are not reflecting on the situation. Added to that, we are not giving ourselves the chance to feel positive and negative emotions, both of which help us regulate how we communicate.
Okay, so now that we have the preliminaries out of the way, how about we address the tenet of being positive? I think the idea should be that if we try to approach the situation with a good attitude, not expecting the worst or see a bad intent behind someone’s actions, then perhaps we have a chance to see the situation from different angle. To think about something critically instead of having a pre-formed opinion, and not allow ourselves to decide beforehand what was a problem before will continue to be a problem now.
That last part is tough. History can be a difficult thing to get past if we can get past certain parts of it at all. I consider myself a student of history but lately I am coming to realize that I was a part of the history that was made. If that history has a negative connection for me, it might have a negative connection for the other person too. Perhaps the best way to deal with it is to examine it, look at the role I had in that negative connection, and see if there is anything I can do so it does not continue to be negative. Because, again, if it was not working before, why continue to do it that way? That’s just dumb, and I don’t want to feel dumb. It makes me think negatively about myself and others.
The tricky part is changing how we think. We talked before about mindset, and how we train our minds over the years to think one way or another. Added to that we have our brain chemistry and the physicality of how the brain works; always trying to save us from dangerous situations. But most of the time the difficult communication we are having with someone is not dangerous. It can be hard, emotionally upsetting, and not something that should continue. But maybe if we approached that conversation from a positive standpoint first and make sure we keep our boundaries (see how these all fit together?), then the communication does not degenerate to that point.
So, what can we do to be more positive? For me, these ideas seem to help:
- None of us are unique. I know that stings, but we all have fears, wants, and needs, and agendas.
- Recognizing I am not unique helps me to remember the other person might not simply abandon their fears, wants, needs and agendas in favor of mine.
- Recognizing the other person might actually (probably) think their fears, wants, needs and agendas are more important than mine.
The above is human nature and is usually not personal. Sometimes the other person is unable to get past their fears, wants, needs and agenda without first voicing them to you. They just need to say their piece. Not great, but it helps to think it is may not be directed at me personally. What is paramount is that their fears, wants, needs and agenda is voiced. That they be heard, and that I hear them. Oftentimes it is not really whether I agree or not, but that I listened and heard what they said. Sometimes they end up talking themselves out of their own position.
If I respond negatively, I am likely to get negativity in return. That is an argument, not a discussion. Both have their place, but argument is convincing someone you are right by telling them why they are wrong. Most of us do not like being told why we are wrong and communicating with a negative attitude generally insures it will not end well. When that happens, it can be difficult to get back to a place where communication and problem solving can occur.
For me it is important to try and approach the communication with the idea things will work out. Maybe not work out perfectly or exactly how I want, but in the end it will be okay. That is tough to sit with sometimes, especially when it feels like everything is coming apart, but please be patient.
That advice is hard to give, and harder to follow, but most of the time it works. It will take time and lots of practice. But it gets better. It will be okay. I am positive.