I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the phrase “being negative won’t help” or “just think positively.” There is a thread that runs through our culture ad our society, especially for women, that urges us to “stay positive” and “to smile more.” This is especially prevalent in conservative communities and depicted in the Lego movie with the song, “Everything is awesome!” The danger of this toxic positivity is unpalatable feelings like lament, grief, loneliness, and helplessness are glossed over with a veneer that encourages people to not feel what they are feeling or even worse doubt what they are feeling.
These catchphrases are a part of a toxic positivity that runs counter to the natural ebb and flow of emotions that courses through our bodies. And our emotions live in our bodies. If we are living in a culture that doesn’t allow space for us to express our deepest emotions, those emotions don’t just disappear. They nestle deep within our bodies and souls. If these emotions are stuffed down because there isn’t a safe place to express them or share them in community, the physical and mental impact can be crippling.
I’m giving up the positivity hustle.
Just “thinking good thoughts,” doesn’t allow our bodies to work through the stress cycle or process through loss and hurt and disappointment. That gets stored in our bodies, which can lead to physical manifestations like sleeplessness, migraines, or an upset stomach. It can also result in:
The process of toxic positivity results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.
This type of thinking has become especially dangerous in a global pandemic where we are surrounded by grief and loss and the stress of our lives changing around us every day has taken its toll on our bodies and spirits. To encourage people to “stay positive” in the midst of stress and loss is encouraging them to ignore their emotions and ignore the signs and cues their bodies are giving them.
As we move through this pandemic we are discovering more and more the toxic nature of our culture of hustle. This hustle encourages us to “keep going” and “stay positive” when everything within us and that we have experienced is asking us to slow down, rest, and grieve.
Lent allows us the space and time to move into the darkness, to feel deeply and fully. Lent allows us to walk the road with Jesus towards the cross. Perhaps as we walk with Jesus we will discover ways that our culture is causing more harm than good. Maybe as we walk beside the Divine as human we will find space and sanctuary to truly be fully feeling and fully human.