Do you know someone who is always optimistic and upbeat, no matter how dire the situation seems to be? Have you ever been told by a perpetually cheerful family member to “just smile and forget about it” after you have just been informed it will cost $2000 to repair your car? Or, perhaps you’ve been told by a co-worker to “Cheer up! At least you still have your job”, after learning you didn’t receive an expected pay raise?
If so, you have been the victim of what psychologists call “toxic positivity”
Toxic Positivity Harms the Addictive Recovery Process
Victims of toxic positivity typically don’t realize they have actually been victimized. Instead, they interpret this positivity as a well-meaning but unhelpful gesture intended to make them feel better. Unfortunately, toxic positivity never helps someone feel better. It only intensifies the specific “bad” feeling the victim is experiencing by minimizing and devaluing that feeling.
For recovering addicts, toxic positivity is a leading cause of relapse because it stigmatizes the need to acknowledge and stay mindful of their doubts, fears, and guilty feelings. In a worst-case scenario, family members of a recovering addict who is coping with the trauma of child abuse might practice toxic positivity by saying things like, “Try to forget about it. It happened so long ago”, or “Your father was mentally ill. He didn’t mean to treat you like he did”.
People who engage in toxic positivity are usually angry, depressed, and afraid to address their own unresolved emotional issues. Being confronted with another person’s emotional turmoil forces a toxically positive person to confront their own unwanted thoughts and feelings. By undermining your sense of hopelessness and loss, they temporarily diminish the discomfort they personally feel by turning their anger towards their victim.
What Does “Keeping It Real” Mean?
Avoiding Toxically Positive People
Successful addiction recovery involves continually learning to identify, challenge, and handle the same emotions that drove you to abuse drugs or alcohol. Denying yourself the ability to assimilate unsettling emotions by letting toxic positivity make you feel anxious, guilty, or ashamed will actively hinder your recovery.
Counter Toxic Positivity with Realistic Positivity
If someone tells you that “everything happens for a reason” or “just stop thinking about the past and you’ll be fine”, don’t let them get away with victimizing you. Explain to the person that part of the recovery process is to “keep it real” by not adopting an unrealistic view of life. Denying the problems that caused addiction in the first place by letting toxic positivity interfere with recovery is not keeping it real.
One of the many ways people in recovery grow stronger and better equipped to manage sobriety is by constantly reminding themselves that it is normal to feel less than OK and to recognize when feeling less than OK requires help from recovery support specialists.
Addiction recovery is just a phone call away. Contact HIckory Treatment Centers for immediate help with a substance abuse disorder.