♥ Let’s End Toxic Positivity ♥
Pregnancy is amazing. It’s an incredible time in your life, and leads to the most precious gift of all: your baby. It’s also messy, painful, and at times downright miserable. These facts are not mutually exclusive. You can love your baby and be grateful for their existence without enjoying the aching hips, the inability to keep food down, and the mood swings that make you cry at how cute something is, then want to smack your partner for trying to give you a compliment because you’re absolutely certain they said it sarcastically and think you look like a beached whale that’s been tarred and feathered. Toxic positivity can make you feel ashamed for these valid feelings that are completely normal during such a tumultuous time in your life.
What is Toxic Positivity?
Toxic positivity is a sugar-coated form of gaslighting. It is a way of invalidating a person’s genuine feelings and making them feel shamed for them. It is the belief that a person should maintain a positive mindset regardless of their circumstances, and that any voicing of negative emotion makes them responsible for those emotions’ very existence.
A Phenomenon on the Rise
Lately, I have been seeing an increase in the number of pregnant moms hurting because their family or friends have invalidated their feelings for the umpteenth time. One mom said that her grandmother told her that she had a miserable time when she was pregnant with her oldest daughter, then later that day, told her she needed to “stop complaining and just love her baby” when she tried to vent about how tired she was feeling on her own personal facebook timeline. Another told of her aunt who would tell her she needed to stop being ungrateful and “suck it up” every time she heard her mention anything not 100% positive about how she was feeling. I have heard the anguished cries of loss mamas, shamed into suffering in silence by toxic positivity, unable to seek support from their friends when they needed it most, as they went through their pregnancies with their rainbow babies.
Every Mama’s Feelings are Valid
This treatment is not okay. Just because she is having a hard time does not mean she doesn’t love her baby, and we as a society need to stop pretending it does. I love my girls with all of my heart and soul. They also drive me up the walls at times. And that’s okay. It doesn’t make me an ungrateful mother to wish they were able to see things from my perspective once in a while. I would never dream of telling another mama that she didn’t love her children just because she didn’t always love their behavior.
The Double Standards Need to Stop
Have you ever been so incredibly annoyed by something your partner did, but still loved them anyway? Unless you live in a fictional world or have never loved anyone, you probably have. Why can the same principle not be applied in parenthood as in relationships? Would you tell a woman she couldn’t possibly love her husband if she felt hurt that he chose to go out for an impromptu drink with his friends while she was at home puking her guts out after having to cancel plans with her friends because she felt so sick? Maybe you can see it from both sides, and think maybe he just thought she wanted to have some peace and be alone, but he should have asked her if that’s what she wanted instead of assuming. But you probably wouldn’t tell her “You should stop whining and be glad you have a husband!” or “It isn’t good for your marriage to get so stressed out over everything, you need to calm down!”
Trauma Is Not Healed By Positivity
A growing number of women suffer from trauma of one kind or another during pregnancy and birth. Many more have experienced it prior to pregnancy, and will experience it after. Some of us will even develop PTSD from our experiences. Being positive does not erase the trauma. The only way to heal from it is to process it. Yes, therapy is extremely important, especially in cases of PTSD. But support from your friends and family is, too. Shaming or shunning someone because they have unhealed trauma might make your ego feel better about your own trauma, or allow you to wrap yourself in a bubble to avoid facing it altogether, but it can be incredibly damaging to the other person, and can serve to deepen and reinforce their trauma. If the goal is to help them develop a positive mindset, this is entirely counterproductive, not to mention cruel.
A Positive Mindset Does Not Exist in a Vacuum
Yes, during pregnancy and immediately postpartum, it is important to protect your emotional space and try to keep a positive mindset. It’s important for success in all areas of life. Having a positive mindset, however, doesn’t protect us from all possible negative feelings and experiences. The human brain needs to be able to process the things that happen in order to move forward. To do this, we need to talk about them. Holding it all inside can foster resentment, anger, fear, and a whole host of other negative feelings. Letting it out can help to release those feelings, allowing them to be replaced by more positive ones.
How You Can Help
Don’t invalidate a mom’s feelings and experiences just because they are unpleasant. Empathize with her. Try to understand what she is going through and hold space for her to talk about it and process it. Allow her to speak on it and seek to better understand her through it. Let her know she is not alone. Make her feel heard and validated. Support her. If you see someone participating in toxic positivity against another (or even themselves), gently remind them that all feelings are valid and deserve the space they need to be processed. That is how we change lives and make the world a better place.
Are you searching for a safe place to talk about your troubles while being supported instead of invalidated? Would you like to join a community of moms coming together to educate and empower each other in healthy ways? Come join us and help us build the village we all need.