Exploring the Echo Chambers of Toxic Positivity vs. Depth Positive Psychology
The wellness industry is massive. It is one of the largest in the world, yet many of the products and services being offered are still irrelevant for a majority of the global population. Thanks to the powerful impact Instagram has had on the industry, effective ideas from a variety of cultures, beliefs and philosophies have been whitewashed and replaced with phrases like “love and light” “raise your vibration” “good vibes only” “we are one” and “you’re my mirror,” among others. These cartoonish representations of meaningful self-actualization take the relatability out of substantive self-care by using misrepresenting language that only a small fraction of the population relates to or understands.
When we use simplistic phrases to sum up complex methods, we turn them into empty promises. And when we hyperbolically emphasize a positive approach to life, we cheat ourselves out of the fullness of our potential emotional capacity.
Just as dieting and fitness morphed from inherently beneficial concepts to industries that cultivate body dysmorphia and addiction, the wellness industry too, has the makings of an exclusive and oppressive force thriving off of widespread commodification of people’s suffering. Practitioners tout opinions as facts and leave traumatized consumers in their wake.
What can we do to shape a wellness industry that provides rational help instead of harm, one that encourages people with tools to process life instead of escaping into toxic positivity?
We start by understanding extreme positivity and why it can be detrimental. There are a number of different markers that characterize toxic positivity. When we understand these, it becomes easier for us to recognize if we ourselves are practicing it.
It misleads through the illusion of honesty.
Intention has become a crucial concept in the wellness world. However, intention and actualization are not the same thing. The intention behind a lot of these fluff phrases may be for the greater good or to provide inspiration or healing. However, by speaking with vague language, we form dishonest teachings that inspire people towards a futile goal.
Carl Jung stated, “A psycho-neurosis must be understood as the suffering of a human being who has not discovered what life means for him…The patient is looking for something that will take possession of him and give meaning and form to the confusion of his neurotic mind.”
People are seeking answers for their confusion and angst. It is no small responsibility for practitioners to provide guidance. That is why we must understand the intricacies of how we are communicating different methods to one another. For example, teaching someone that they need to raise their vibration in order to live a balanced life also teaches them to associate high frequencies with goodness and low frequencies with undesirability. It encourages them to avoid or suppress undesirable emotions, which can exacerbate that individual’s struggles. Although the intention with that phrase might be to encourage someone, it’s an ignorant and false over-emphasis on extreme positivity, which actually makes it toxic.
It avoids intimacy.
When we speak in a way that emphasizes intention as opposed to actualization, we detach from the people we are speaking to. Because the origination of our words then becomes our own intention, instead of the real impact they will have on other people, we disregard the role that true intimacy plays in honest communication. What we say then becomes all about us.
Our tendency to do this can be easily understood when we look at the internet and phones. A large percentage of our communication takes place through screens. Important conversations are occuring in a one-sided format without immediate connection or feedback between those involved. These conditions have birthed soundbite wellness with an emphasis on toxic positivity. Let’s consider: is it actually possible for us to provide ‘life-changing’ self-actualization that benefits the individual, through soundbite phrases eliciting extreme positivity as an answer to suffering?
In the words of Carl Jung, “People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” There is a big difference between presenting escapism as inspirational vs. honest self-confrontation and transmutation of suffering into nourishment.
It sets us up to fail.
Without the tools to properly digest effective wellness practices, and when faced with a waterfall of false truths dressed as promises, we are bound to fail. When the system we are prescribing says that failure is not a desirable place to be, then where does that lead us after we fail?
It takes us to a place where the disease of more drives us in pursuit of an ideal state of balance. At the same time, our recurring failures to achieve this ideal state keep us in the hamster wheel. It’s definitely an effective way to create customers for life, but is this the way we as participants want the wellness industry to function? Aren’t we searching for an alternative to the hamster wheels of big pharma and capitalist-driven care?
So now we come to this question, what can we do about it?
We start by developing systems to integrate our new understanding…
Now that I recognize toxic positivity, how can I instead practice depth positive psychology?
Positivity by itself can be a powerful and amazing tool in our journey of mindful life curation. In his evaluation of depth positive psychology, Dr. Paul Wong (Founder and President of the International Network on Personal Meaning) writes, “The archetype of the Self represents the center of the psyche and is commonly expressed by the symbol of a Mandala. The Self signifies wholeness, the product of integrating the consciousness and unconscious aspects of the psyche through individuation. One cannot actualize selfhood without getting in touch with the Shadow, the archetype of the dark and rejected parts of the self.”
Recognizing and intimately getting to know every aspect of our humanity is a depth positive practice! Even Jung recognized the value of meaning in suffering: “Man can stand the most incredible hardships when he is convinced that they make sense.”
A few systems for you to put into practice:
- Curate relationships with people who communicate honestly (openly and honestly are not the same thing).
- Filter out your consumption of toxic positivity to avoid falling into its traps (now that you know what it is, you can filter it out of your daily experience).
- Curate your language so that you are speaking directly and accurately (to yourself and others).
- Adopt a full frequency life and recognize that there is an appropriate place for every one of your emotions to live. Your emotions don’t have to run your life, but you also don’t have to run from your emotions. Notice which ones show up most often and begin there. Like using Google maps, get to know your emotional profile through observation, deep listening, and awareness.
- Curate an internal neighborhood, give each of your emotions a home in this neighborhood and seek professional help to do this when needed (therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, psychotherapist, behaviorist…) Imagine a neighborhood inside you and spend time building homes for you emotions. Treat them like people living inside of you. Interact with them like people when they flare up instead of avoiding them. Ask yourself how you’re feeling, why, what physical reaction you have to the feeling, how long it lasts, how it changes your ability to focus, etc… Get to know the emotion, and see the difference this approach can make in helping you cultivate healthy detachment and processing of the emotions themselves.
- Laugh! Life is short and getting to know yourself is a privilege that not everyone has the time, energy or capacity for. If you have that privilege, that is something to celebrate. This process can mean everything and nothing at the same time because meaning is perception based. Let it be fun, let it be hard, let it feel great, let it feel terrible, let it feel knowable and unknowable. Laugh.
“The process of individuation is to reconcile and integrate the various differentiated components into a coherent and balanced whole. Thus, it integrates the Ego (center of consciousnesses) with the Shadow, Anima (the feminine personality characteristics) with the animus (the masculine characteristics), the rational (thinking and feeling) and irrational (sensing and intuition) psychic functions” -Dr. Wong
I invite you to join me as we transmute the toxic positivity within wellness into nourishing depth positive integration of valuable systems. I invite you to be fully human and fully aware.
Maraliz Campos, sound practitioner and wellness guide, challenges widely accepted industry narratives. Vice Tonic applauded her work as a wellness influencer who is steering the industry towards increased diversity and Wanderlust named her 35 under 35 in wellness for her pioneering soundscapes. As a Latina living with chronic pain, she promotes accessibility, inclusivity and wellness for all while teaching us to shift our unconscious reactions to chosen responses. When utilizing the vibrational vehicle of sound, she combines scientific and intuitive techniques to invite self-exploration and reprogramming through sensory access to neuroplasticity. Her meditation EP 6 Comunidades will be released July 26th with a free, public party at the Rubin Museum of Art. Please feel free to join!