What is toxic positivity and how can NLP help?
After the birth of my first child in 2015 I found myself becoming so lost and unsure about myself and my place in the world. I found myself creating this perception in my mind of what a mother and wife should be, do and how I should act and take care of my family.
I created this very high expectation of myself and if I’m being really honest, I wasn’t really sure where that had come from or why I expected so much of myself.
At first I found myself in this warped version of trying to keep up to everything and these expectations I had set for myself. Giving my baby what she needed and keeping her happy, keeping the home clean and at the same time I had gone full drive into work mode and was driving my business forward. At the time I owned a fashion business and was doing incredibly well from the outside looking in.
I kept telling myself that everything would be ok and that I could make it all work. The biggest thing I think I lacked, was the ability to ask for help, and the ability to realise that I was not well at all.
Looking back now I see that I was lost and lonely and couldn’t find the words to speak up about how I really felt and ask for help. I was brushing over my real feelings because I thought it would make me seem weak and unable to care for my baby.
It wasn’t until I trained in Neuro-linguistic programming in 2016, after a year of this happening that I was able to break free from the internal judgements I held towards myself and recognise what is called toxic positivity.
When you act emotionless or brush over the things that you are feeling when you are really struggling is known as toxic positivity. It can come up in situations when things are going wrong and you are not paying attention to the actual reality of where you are and how you feel.
It’s the tendency to brush over your negative feelings with positive thinking or positive affirmations. The problem is though, is that this can then leave us feeling even more guilty when we do feel these negative emotions, or when we feel down or sad in situations. We are not always able to just think on the bright side because real situations are happening that need acknowledging and as humans we need to feel them.
We have become accustomed in society to toxic positivity without even realising it. Like in the situation I was in back in 2015. I sometimes find myself falling into this way of thinking by mistake now when having conversations with my children and if they get upset about something. I have to constantly remind myself that we need to, and we must honour the way they are feeling and teach them that it is ok to feel sad when you feel sad, it is ok to be disappointed when you feel disappointed about something. It’s also important to acknowledge that as a parent, I may not understand why my child is upset about something, but for them it is very real and important to acknowledge that.
Often we find ourselves in situations where someone is telling us about something negative that has happened we automatically revert to the ‘oh it will be ok, think on the bright side’ without consideration that the other person needs to feel these negative emotions to then move through them. This is especially harmful when we do it with children because it teaches them that we shouldn’t acknowledge the way we feel in situations, even when it is completely normal to feel disappointed, angry or upset. It is important to honour our feelings and emotions and then we can move through them and learn from them rather than brush over them and just hope for the best.
So, when it comes to it, where does neuro-linguistic programming fit into all of this? Neuro-linguistic programming is a powerful mindset and set of methods you can use to help yourself and your thinking. It is certainly not about brushing over the way you feel but about acknowledging what is happening in the moment and then helping yourself if for example you find yourself like I did, placing too much of an expectation on yourself that you are never able to live up to. Or if you find yourself dwelling on a situation for too long and it is affecting your life and every day.
A very simple way you can use NLP to help yourself in situations where you have acknowledged the way you feel and need help to move through it is to ask yourself a better question.
Using NLP can help in all areas of life. When it comes to the way we think and the way we attach meaning to things the best method within NLP is to ask better questions. It’s very simple really, yet a very powerful way to reframe your thoughts and the way you attach meaning to things.
Just by asking yourself a better question you can change the way you think in a moment and become more resourceful. Depending on what situation you are in may depend on the question, however a universal question that will help you change the way you think would be “What can I learn from this situation that is personal, positive and about the future?”
By asking yourself this question you are opening up your mind to think of how this current reality will support you in the future, and if you are unsatisfied with the current situation you will begin to think of positive resources and how this will support you into the future.
When I teach NLP to my students we talk a lot about how we perceive reality in the first place. This is part of what caused me to create this unrealistic expectation of myself and then never be able to live up to it. It is important to understand how we perceive our reality and how we filter events into our minds. Our brains are wired to notice all the things that back up what we currently believe in our reality. Everyone has a different version of reality and everyone has different beliefs, values, personalities and attitudes. This is what determines what we filter into our reality. When we believe that something bad is going to happen, or we think negatively or emotionally about a situation the part of our brain called the Reticular Activating System is designed to then notice anything you experience going on around you in this way.
You will only filter through the things that back up what you already believe and what you are already thinking. We first need to become aware of this. When we understand that the way we think and feel in the moment will only attract more of the same stuff then we can do something about it and we can begin to ask ourselves better questions.
When it comes down to it, it is important to recognise the way you feel in the moment. Allow yourself to honour that feeling and feel into it. Be curious and then allow yourself to move through it. If you need some extra support to move through the emotions as and when the time is right, then you can ask yourself a better question. “What can I learn from this situation?”
If you find yourself still trying to brush over negative experiences and emotions then journaling can really help you to get everything going on in your head out and onto paper. Just by starting simply by writing down what you can see in your surroundings, then moving into what you can hear and then finally what you are feeling. This will really help you to acknowledge what is happening in the moment and instead of bruising over it and not honouring your humanness, you can appreciate yourself and your experiences in the good times and the bad.