Jennifer Zamparelli was joined on RTÉ 2FM by psychotherapist and author Whitney Goodman to discuss her book Toxic Positivity: Keeping It Real in a World Obsessed with Being Happy!
'Everything happens for a reason', 'life doesn't give you more than you can handle', 'negative thoughts will never lead to a positive light' - these are just some of the phrases that Whitney Goodman says reek of toxic positivity.
The psychotherapist created a Pinterest board a while back collecting these well meaning yet invalidating phrases to showcase how silly they were. It was while she was pregnant in the middle of a global pandemic, that Goodman was pushed over the edge by these turns of phrase and decided to turn her board into a book.
"During the pandemic a lot of them were 'just be grateful you have a job' or 'you have a roof over your head'. While I was pregnant it was 'every child is a blessing', 'you shouldn't complain' and 'enjoy every minute'."
Goodman explains that these phrases can be dismissive and can effectively tell someone to "shut up" at a time when they may be feeling distressed and looking for support.
Ultimately, the author says that it's both exhausting and impossible to be happy and positive all of the time and that we need to allow space for negativity and upset in our lives.
"That's where we can look at 'helpful positivity' which is recognising that there is good and there is bad and a lot of grey in between," she tells Jen.
"We allow ourselves to notice both, make room for both, and really arrive at our own conclusions naturally without being dragged, kicking and screaming, to that positive place when we're not ready to be there."
Goodman acknowledges that a lot of these phrases are used at time when people don't know what to say and are simply trying to bring comfort to a person who may be feeling down. If a friend is grieving, for example, we may be tempted to say that their lost loved one is 'in a better place' as a way to bring them comfort.
Unfortunately, these expressions have become so overused that they have lost their meaning, leaving well-meaning friends to sound like broken records.
In times when we don't know what to say, she says, it may be better to listen.
"I would suggest that people really try to be present with the person, allow them to talk about their pain, listen, seek understanding rather than trying to sound like a Hallmark card or bring them into this place of positivity. These are hard topics and people deserve respect and understanding when they're talking about them."
Over the various lockdowns, well being and self care became hot topics among younger people, with videos about manifestation and the law of attraction doing the rounds on TikTok. The movement posits that by setting clear and precise intentions, and by tapping into positive thinking, a person achieve anything they want in life.
"There is absolutely a lot of power in saying 'this is something I want, I'm going to identify it and put it out there in the world'," explains Goodman.
"The problem arises when we say 'ok, your thoughts are what attract certain things to you, even the bad things in your life'. I would hate for anyone who has been a victim of really terrible circumstances to feel like 'oh, wow, I brought this on myself because of how I was thinking'."
To hear Goodman speak about toxic positivity in the work place and body positivity, listen back to The Jennifer Zamparelli on RTÉ 2fm above.