Mindless Motivation

A discussion on toxic positivity

When I started my journey toward being a life coach, then this blog, and a sort of online side-gig practice, my main drive was to bring positivity into the world. To help people overcome their negative, limiting beliefs. I created an Instagram devoted to memes designed to give followers and clients a form of daily motivation.

One thing I have always put an emphasis on, though, is the fact that how you are feeling at any given moment is valid.

But in the course of pursuing my passion of helping others, a trend has been emerging that is giving those of us who are doing it right a bad name. It has come to be known as “toxic positivity”.

The most frustrating thing about toxic forms of positive thinking is that they look and sound almost identical to the kind of positive thinking that can actually be beneficial in our lives. It is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And it is a very good disguise. Nearly foolproof. But it always carries with it a few defining characteristics. I am going to list a few of them here and then debunk them.

Firstly, it invalidates an individual’s current state of being. What I mean is that it says, sometimes as bluntly as this, that how you are feeling at any given moment is a choice. This is a very deceptive half-truth.

How you are feeling at this moment is not the choice. You are scared for a reason. You are depressed for a reason. You are feeling hopeless for a reason. Something real has happened to you that has brought you to the place you are at now. You do not choose how you feel about things. The choice you have is how to view these events and where you find yourself.

It has been almost a year since I have seen some of my friends. People who I used to see on a nearly weekly basis. And this fact makes me very sad. It hurts. I miss them. I am not choosing to be sad about it. I feel that way and that is real and outside of my control. But what I can control is whether or not I will give up on ever seeing them again. Will I choose permanent despair or will I choose hope?

My feelings are valid and real. My reaction to those feelings is my choice.

Secondly, toxic positivity blames you for every and thing that happens to you. You feel how you feel because you are choosing the scenario that has you in that place.

This is blatantly false. But it is expressed with such subtlety that you do not always notice it. Through positive affirmations, you are made to come to accept that you are choosing your negative emotions and therefore you are choosing the situation that creates those negative emotions.

The fact is, you do not always choose to be where you find yourself at any given moment. Ask someone who got COVID-19 even though they followed all the social distancing, masking, and lockdown procedures whether or not they chose to get COVID.

The last thing I will mention here is that, with those promoting toxic positivity, they will tell you that their brand has all the answers. And the real answers come at a price, usually more than you can afford.

At the end of the day, those who truly have your best interests at heart, even if they are selling a service or product, are not going to make you feel pressured into purchasing what they are selling. You are going to buy from them because they have already met your needs, not left you wondering whether or not they can.

In the coming days, I am going to spend time here explaining what true positivity is so we can undermine the wolves and find true joy in the midst of all the things we are all going through.



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Jeremy Zerby

Jeremy Zerby


Hermeneutics, religion, pop psychology, self-help, and culture. They are all connected, and I am here to explain how.