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Contemplations, Featured

Affirmations and Toxic Positivity

Affirmations have been used for years as a tool for invoking positivity and kindness for self. However, I have only ever had a “hate” relationship with this word. Somehow, affirmations have never quite resonated with me and I have always felt them as hollow words even when I have earnestly tried to imbibe them as a part of spiritual practice.

No doubt many swear by the power of affirmations and for those it works, I feel glad that they have tools at their disposal when they want to lift their spirits up. My main contention with affirmations is that it seems to add layers of illusion, not liberation. In seeking the truth, it only ever added to my layers of Maya.

I get a feeling that affirmations act as a balm on the wound, soothing the pain, but never really healing it. They cover the real self-inquiry that needs to be engaged in on the spiritual path. While looking at psychology, there is a term called “Toxic Positivity” and I feel affirmations just play into that psyche.

According to psychology, there is nothing wrong with having a positive attitude to life, in fact, it is something that is encouraged. However, lying to yourself about the way things are, leads to denial and more pain. It is far better to face the pain, struggles, and challenges and accept them as they are, then deny their existence with “everything is awesome!”

This is the dark side of positive vibes, which of late feels like being shoved down our throats by the new age gurus and self-help books. It makes the pain seem shameful and doesn’t allow for sadness to be expressed healthily, which could eventually lead to depressive bouts.

The excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations, does more harm psychologically than it helps the individual gain hope and strength. True strength comes from being raw and vulnerable and that also means allowing yourself to feel and express the emotions that come up. Once these emotions have had the space to be seen, it is easier to drill-down on their cause and effectively lead to healing.

Some signs of toxic positivity are as below:

  1. Hiding or masking true feelings
  2. Dismissing an emotion
  3. Feeling guilty for feeling what you feel
  4. Minimizing other people’s experiences with “feel good” quotes or statements
  5. Giving someone perspective instead of validating their emotional experience
  6. Shaming or chastising others for expressing frustration or anything other than positivity
  7. Brushing off things that are bothering

Invariably I have found all these elements in the proponents of affirmations. I have had people tell me “fake it till you make it” when I expressed that I feel no connection to blabbering affirmative sentences mindlessly. In dismissing my own emotions, and trying to replace them with “positive thoughts”, I have suffered much more than when I genuinely tried just looking at what was coming up and what was its cause.

I strongly feel that if I have to fake something to reach the truth, then that can’t be right. I really don’t feel any truth in saying affirmations that might be opposite to what is happening within. That is just plain and simple lying to yourself – the biggest injustice you can do to your soul.

So, people that find affirmations helpful, by all means, should continue to practice them. However, with an overkill of toxic positivity, sooner or later, we all will need to take a hard look within and seek what truly resonates with our souls.

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