Toxic Positivity is a term getting a lot of movement and use recently. What does it mean and how does it affect us in sport performance? Let’s take a closer look…
Toxic Positivity is, essentially, statements from others that do not validate your core feeling(s). VeryWellMinded.com states: "it is the good vibes only approach to life" (Cherry, Kendra). This image from their website is a great visual:
Have you ever come out of the show ring, bummed? Disappointed in your round? A barnmate/friend/parent/family member/acquaintance says to you: “Stay positive!” or “There’s always tomorrow!” or “You’ll get over it, it was only one round!”.
A majority of the time, the person saying these things have good intentions. They are not encouraging you to stay positive in bad faith or hoping to make you feel worse. These statements are, typically, what people say when they are not sure what else to say. They are unsure of what to say to make you feel better or how to validate your feelings.
The problem: it doesn’t help.
As competitors we want to do well. We want to win. We have goals set before we enter the show ring or before we get on our horse for a lesson. We want to feel accomplishment whether it is a blue ribbon round or an improvement on a mistake from our last ride. When we feel disappointment, loss, sadness, frustration, anger, and the space around you is encouraging you to dismiss those feelings. Put those feelings in a box, lock it, and throw it away. It is essentially telling you, the person feeling that way, that what you are feeling is wrong.
Toxic Positivity encourages feelings of shame and guilt.
As competitors we can practice genuine optimism (the opposite of toxic positivity) by validating each other's emotions. Give each other space to feel those difficult feelings, share what is hard and not have a dismissive response to another person's emotions.
How? Change what you say to that barnmate/friend/parent/family member/acquaintance.
Instead of this → Try this
Stay positive! That must be really hard.
There’s always tomorrow. Ugh. Feeling ________________
(disappointed;angry) is hard. I’ve
been there too.
You’ll get over it, it was only one round. What can I do to support you?
You’ll get ‘em next time! I’m sorry you’re going through this.
Does it feel weird to say these things to your friend? Yeah, it might! But the reality is, these statements encourage growth. Understanding how you feel, why you feel that way, and that others probably have felt or feel the same, makes you feel understood. You are less likely to internalize negative emotions and use self deprecating internal dialogue when you feel understood.
It is not a pity party. I am not encouraging everyone to sit in a circle and cry about their “bad round” for three hours. What I am encouraging you to do is to give space to yourself, and to others, for how you feel. Riding horses is hard! Let’s not minimize another person's experience or feel guilty for how we feel. The truth is, we have all felt in similar ways. We just are less likely to talk about it.
- Jenny Swanson, LICSW
phone: 508-494-1555 email: email@example.com
Cherry, Kendra. “What is Toxic Positivity?” February 1, 2021. Source: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-toxic-positivity-5093958
Quintero, S. and Long, J. “Toxic Positivity: The Dark Side of Positive Vibes” Source: https://thepsychologygroup.com/toxic-positivity/