What is toxic positivity?

Waffles the pug smiling and showing his teeth.
My daughter’s pug Waffles putting on a happy face. “Treats, please?”

When our daughter calls me upset, my reaction is to try and tell her that it’s not that bad. That things will improve and maybe there’s a silver lining. My desire is to make her happier, to make her pain go away.

After reading an article in the Wall Street Journal called Toxic Positivity Is Very Real, and Very Annoying by Elizabeth Bernstein, I understood why my daughter gets upset when I try to cheer her up. I never heard the term “Toxic Positivity” before, but it’s what I do. The article gives a ton of examples of well-meaning parents and friends making someone with an issue feel worse. Here are a few paragraphs from the story:

Forcing ourselves or others to always be positive can be harmful to our well-being and our relationships. There’s a better approach.

Pushing away difficult emotions, such as sadness or fear, and forcing ourselves or others to be positive can be harmful to our mental well-being and our relationships, psychologists say. This is because practicing false cheerfulness—which they call “toxic positivity”—keeps us from addressing our feelings, and the feelings of others.

Yes, cultivating a positive mindset is a powerful coping mechanism, especially in tough times. But positivity needs to be rooted in reality for it to be healthy and helpful.

“Toxic positivity is positivity given in the wrong way, in the wrong dose, at the wrong time,” says David Kessler, a grief expert and the author of six books about grief, including his latest, “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief.”

It sounds like this: “Cheer up!” “Don’t worry!” “Stop focusing on the negative!” “Try to have a better attitude!”

We’re all guilty of it. Many of us were taught as children to banish so-called bad feelings—to pick ourselves up when we fall, stop complaining and count our blessings. And our fix-it-fast culture reinforces the message that to be positive is to succeed. (Just consider the phrase “winning attitude.”)

Often, we go overboard on positivity because we just don’t want to feel bad. And we don’t want the people we care about to feel bad, either.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/tired-of-being-told-cheer-up-the-problem-of-toxic-positivity-11635858001?mod=life_work_lead_pos1

My daughter told me that when I say “look on the bright side,” I don’t find her feelings to be valid. What she wants from me — and there are many examples of this in the article with other parents and children — is to listen to how she feels.

I’m sure my glass-half-full outlook is based on my childhood emotional issues, like my parents fighting or divorcing. In other words, I covered up my feelings and fears with a veneer of a positive attitude that was like hiding under the covers, which I did every night.

My last kernel of truth for today:

“It’s not our job to solve problems for our children, but it is our job to listen and love them.” — E.A. Wickham

Have you heard of toxic positivity? What are your thoughts about it?

Do you have someone in your life that uses it, or have you used it yourself with family members and friends?

WSJ says Instagram is harmful for teens

I read an interesting article today about Instagram and teen girls called “Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls, Internal Documents Show.” Written by Georgia Wells, Jeff Horwitz and Deepa Seetharama for the Wall Street Journal, the article says that social media may become the youth generation’s tobacco companies.

Waffles the pug. Waffles has his own Instagram account wafflezworldwide.

You can read the entire article HERE.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” the researchers said in a March 2020 slide presentation posted to Facebook’s internal message board, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. “Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves.”

For the past three years, Facebook has been conducting studies into how its photo-sharing app affects its millions of young users. Repeatedly, the company’s researchers found that Instagram is harmful for a sizable percentage of them, most notably teenage girls.

“We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” said one slide from 2019, summarizing research about teen girls who experience the issues.

“Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” said another slide. “This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”

Among teens who reported suicidal thoughts, 13% of British users and 6% of American users traced the desire to kill themselves to Instagram, one presentation showed.

Isn’t this scary? I feel like someone’s unleashed Godzilla on the world. What will we know 10 or 20 years from now? Hopefully, we will move beyond social media and get back to in person interaction. I think if I were a parent of younger kids today, I wouldn’t let my kids have a smart phone, but stick with the flip phones or dumb phones. I didn’t get my kids smart phones until they were in high school.

Another thing I found troubling with this article is that Facebook has done internal studies for several years and they know Instagram has issues at its core. But they downplay them to the public. Our congress and senate have asked for Facebook’s studies and they do not comply with the requests.

Here’s more from the article:

In public, Facebook has consistently played down the app’s negative effects on teens, and hasn’t made its research public or available to academics or lawmakers who have asked for it.

“The research that we’ve seen is that using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental-health benefits,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at a congressional hearing in March 2021 when asked about children and mental health.

The features that Instagram identifies as most harmful to teens appear to be at the platform’s core.

The tendency to share only the best moments, a pressure to look perfect and an addictive product can send teens spiraling toward eating disorders, an unhealthy sense of their own bodies and depression, March 2020 internal research states. It warns that the Explore page, which serves users photos and videos curated by an algorithm, can send users deep into content that can be harmful.

“Aspects of Instagram exacerbate each other to create a perfect storm,” the research states.

What are your thoughts about Instagram and other social media? Do you spend much time with it? Do your kids or grandkids? Do you notice a change in how they feel after they use social media? I find I’m using it less and less.