How to Transform from Toxic Positivity to Presence

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Dear Soft Hearted Loves,

I’m a reformed toxic positivity user or a transforming ex-Pollyanna. My dear friend once brought it to my attention that it was invalidating when I would highlight the positive when she was sharing what was going on for her. After years of trying to see the bright side I had to check what was coming up for me that I’d steer conversations from the present to highlighting the positive. This can be dangerously invalidating even when we have the best of intentions. This is not to say that I don’t still love practicing gratitude and affirmations. Toxic positivity is different and can be very hurtful.

I did not want my friend to police her sharing with me. I wanted my friend to share freely so I began my transformation from toxic positivity to more and more presence. I then learned that not only can it be invalidating but it can also burry and numb my true feelings and disconnect me from the present moment. Here are a few ways you can come more and more into the moment and move into connectedness if you’d like.

  1. Observe obsessive thoughts, wanting to make it better, or wishing they’d do something differently when listening to someone share. You can witness your own thoughts like thoughts passing on a stream without judgment if they’re sharing something that hurts them or makes you sad. Wow this is so much easier said than done, but it’s been like a psychological muscle for me. The more we witness obsessive thoughts the less we try to transform these thoughts into something else or shame ourselves for these thoughts. Cognitively, it is impossible to control our first, automatic thought. Therefore, take note when your mind is going the person you are listening to. We do not want to control people or make them feel like they aren’t enough so simply listen and witness your passing thoughts unless they want something else from you.
  2. If you notice a feeling of sadness or heaviness in your body you can give yourself compassion through touch or another soothing avenue for you. For me, I tend to put one or two hands on my heart or gentle rub just below my collar bone when listening deeply in the moment. If that’s too distracting you can put one hand gently on the other to soothe yourself as you listen.
  3. If you’ve listened so deeply, witnessed protectively distracting thoughts, and soothed yourself into the moment please know it’s also okay to put a limit to it. It is actually more honest and authentic if we limit our listening instead of overextending ourselves. When we listen past our limit we may develop resentments, feel overwhelmed, push down a part of ourselves that has a need, or miss a spot for healing. For example, if I’m listening intently to a friend for an hour I may notice I am not able to keep this up authentically. I may ask to end the conversation for now and return tomorrow with rested and invigorated presence. True friends of mine understand this isn’t personal and it is simply about being awake to what I need and how I can be more of an available person to the world. Not everyone knows what they need and that’s okay. Actually, we are taught for the most part to suppress our needs. For example, in my father’s side of the family we are taught to bring tea to the men and older people after a meal when we may actually need rest in that moment or something else. I believe there’s a lot of intersecting complexity to this boundaries thing. Most of all caring for yourself will allow you to transform from throwing in positive reflections or trying to control someone’s perspective. Boundaries can help you be more and more present and available. When I feel badly about setting a boundary I acknowledge that and I also remind myself I’m not being honest and authentic when I push myself way past my limits.

Please comment on your journey toward presence and away from toxic positivity if you’re called to do so.

With kindness,

Dr. Joharchi

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