It’s nearly impossible to visit Facebook or Instagram without seeing quotes or comments with motivational words, like “look on the bright side,” “focus on the good things,” or “stay positive.”
In any case, the pandemic has increased the phenomenon of “toxic positivity”. In Quebec, the famous phrase, “It’s going to be OK,” is undoubtedly one of the most famous examples of this.
Although well-intentioned, these phrases can cause more distress than help. Why? Because they are examples of toxic positivity, a school of thought that works on the principle that one should always have a positive attitude, even when things are difficult.
As a doctoral student in psychology, I am interested in internal symptoms (depression, anxiety and social withdrawal) and external symptoms (guilt, violent, oppositional/defensive, disruptive and impulsive behavior). I believe it is important to pay attention to the negative consequences of “emotional invalidation” and to understand why we need to live with our negative emotions.
When a person talks about what they are feeling, their main goal is usually to validate their feelings, understand and accept the emotional experience. In contrast, emotional invalidation involves ignoring, rejecting, criticizing, or rejecting another person’s feelings.
Several studies have looked at the effects of emotional invalidation. The conclusions are clear: it is very harmful to mental health. People who experience emotional invalidation are more likely to have depressive symptoms.
There are many negative effects of emotional invalidation. A person who is invalidated on a regular basis may have difficulty accepting, controlling, and understanding their emotions.
In addition, people who expect their feelings to be invalid are less likely to demonstrate psychological resilience, which is the ability to tolerate difficult thoughts and feelings and resist defending themselves unnecessarily. .
The more psychological resilience a person has, the more able he is to live with his emotions and overcome difficult situations. For example, a young man may feel angry, sad and confused after a breakup. His friend listens to him and confirms. The man then normalizes his conflicting feelings and understands that the feelings will not last forever.
Conversely, the other person going through the same type of breakup does not understand his feelings, feels ashamed and is afraid of losing control of his emotions. His friend invalidates him and will not listen to him. The man then tries to suppress his emotions, which creates anxiety and can even lead to depression.
These two examples, drawn from the study “Processes Underlying Depression: Risk Avoidance, Emotional Schema, and Psychological Resilience” by American psychologists and researchers Robert L. Leahy, Dennis Tirch, and Poonam S. Melvani, are neither rare nor harmless. The avoidance response, which involves making every effort to avoid experiencing negative emotions, is often amplified by those around us.
Some people are so affected by the sufferings of others that they become sad only after seeing this misery. So they respond by making positive comments. However, the ability to live with our emotions is essential. Suppressing or avoiding them doesn’t solve anything. In fact, trying to avoid negative emotions at all costs does not bring the desired effect – on the contrary, the feelings return more often and more intensely.
Being negative: a state of mind with ancient origins
Unfortunately, humans are not built to be positive all the time. Conversely, we are more likely to recall bad memories. This is probably a time ago, when our existence depended on our reflexes to avoid danger. A person who ignores danger signals even once may end up in a frightening or even fatal situation.
Read more: Mindfulness meditation in brief daily doses may reduce negative mental health effects of COVID-19
In this article, “Bad is stronger than good,” the authors, both psychologists, point out that organisms that were better at identifying danger throughout evolutionary history were more likely to avoid threats. Therefore their genes were more likely to be passed on in humans to those most alert. The result is that we are programmed in some way to pay attention to potential sources of danger.
How does negativity bias manifest?
This phenomenon is known as negativity bias. Research has identified four manifestations of this bias that allow us to better understand it. One of these expressions is related to the terminology we use to describe negative events.
In a phenomenon called negative differentiation, it turns out that the terminology we use to describe negative events is richer and more varied than the terminology we use to describe positive events. Furthermore, negative stimuli are generally interpreted as more detailed and differentiated than positive ones.
The terminology used to describe physical pain is even more complex than the terminology used to describe physical pleasure. Another example: Parents find it easier to judge their children’s negative feelings than their positive feelings.
no more prepositional sentences
Negative emotions are a product of human complexity and are just as important as positive emotions.
The next time someone talks to you about their feelings, if you don’t know what to say, opt for listening and emotional validation. Use expressions such as, “Looks like you had a tough day,” or, “It was tough, wasn’t it?”
It’s worth noting that being positive isn’t always synonymous with toxic positivity—the goal of which is to reject and avoid everything and only see the positive side of things. An example of positive and valid language is, “It’s normal to feel the way you do after such a serious event, let’s try to figure it out.” Toxic positivity, on the other hand, sounds more like, “Stop looking at the negative side, instead think about the positive things.”
Finally, if you are unable to confirm and listen, refer the person to a mental health professional who will know how to help them.