STOP TELLING ME I’M BRAVE And Other Telltale Signs You’re Spreading Toxic Positivity
It’s one thing to be cheerful, optimistic, and upbeat. But even lightness can take a dark turn, especially when the object of your optimism is dealing with a scary health issue like breast cancer.
This upcoming month, in particular, is a good time to reflect on how your mindset can deeply impact your overall health. That’s because May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Ever since 1949, it’s been all about increasing awareness of the importance of mental health and wellness in our lives. It’s true that a positive mindset can make all the difference in dealing with a challenging issue. But straight-up positivity isn’t always positive. In fact, it can be downright toxic.
Toxic positivity is good vibes gone bad. In other words, it’s the assumption that you should always put on a happy face, regardless of the emotional pain or challenging situation you or a loved one may be facing. Experts say that toxic positivity can be a strategy to avoid genuine emotions.1 And while this may seem like the right idea, in reality, it can cause more harm than good. In fact, some studies have shown that suppressing your true feelings can cause even more internal stress and anxiety.1
But whether you’re on the giving or receiving end of all these good intentions, there are, well, more positive ways to be positive and supportive.
If you’ve ever found yourself offering up reassurances like the ones below, here are some ideas for how to rephrase them. Because as well-meaning as these statements may seem, they could actually be diminishing to your family, friends, colleagues—even to yourself.
“You’re so brave.” Yes, it takes courage to face a challenge such as a cancer diagnosis. But not everyone feels like a superhero. One study asked women to name the “reassurances” that made them bristle and this topped the list.2 Consider, instead, “It sucks that this is happening, but I’m here to help you get through it.”
“At least this cancer is easy to treat.” Researcher Brené Brown’s notable talk on empathy advises against diminishing phrases such as “at least.” While this statement may be true, any cancer is still difficult to deal with. Instead, say, “I would like to understand more about what you’re going through if you feel like sharing.”
“You’re gonna be just fine!” While this may seem like the ultimate picker-upper, experts in the field of emotional intelligence say assumptions like this can be a real downer.3 No one knows how things will turn out. And your comment could be heard as dismissive of fears and feelings. An alternative could be “I hope you know you’re not alone in this. I will help you in any way I can.”
“You’re so inspiring.” This is another bit of flattery that breast cancer patients say can fall flat.2 They say they’re just trying to do what doctors tell them, to get through treatments and live their life—not be a hero or a saint. Instead, consider saying, “I’m not sure what to say right now, but I’m totally here for you.”
Life is full of scary moments, unforeseen challenges, and serious issues that we must face. And yes, we can even find joy in those moments. That is if we approach them with the right dose of optimism and positivity. With that mindset—as well as friends who support you along the way—we can get through anything.
Start by being a cheerleader for your own breast health. If you haven’t done so already, schedule your annual mammogram today. Then, look in the mirror and give yourself a high five for doing something that’s genuinely positive.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational use only and is not intended for or implied to be a substitute for medical advice. Always seek the guidance of your health care professional for any question you may have regarding medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Information found from public sources, such as public websites, customer feedback, company manuals, and data from customers and trade shows, as of 01/13/2022. Hologic cannot verify the completeness of accuracy of this information.
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