Have you ever had a bad day or a run of bad luck and had a friend or loved one tell you to “just think positively” or “everything happens for a reason”? If the answer is yes, you’ve likely experienced toxic positivity. While staying positive is essential to reaching your goals, pushing aside or suppressing negative feelings can make things worse in the long run. As it applies to money, toxic positivity may even hurt your finances more to assume that everything will work out without any effort from you.
In fact, if you try to get out of a tough financial spot with good thoughts alone, you may actually wind up in a worse situation.
The difference between toxic positivity and resilience
We’re often told that you must think positively before creating good in your life. While a certain level of positivity and belief is necessary, if all you do is wait around and think happy thoughts, you won’t make progress.
According to Psychology Today, toxic positivity is avoiding or suppressing every negative feeling, situation or experience that happens in life. You may deny your emotions when things get tricky, choosing instead to believe in a better future but never taking action to improve it.
Resilience, on the other hand, lets you keep moving through a challenging situation like a scary medical diagnosis or job loss while still being able to acknowledge that things are hard. With resiliency, you can tolerate that negative things have happened and cope with the feelings that arise, whatever they are.
It can be helpful and motivating to keep a positive attitude in some situations. However, ignoring negative emotions like fear, anger, anxiety and shame in the long term doesn’t usually work.
Generally, when we don’t process our feelings as we have them, we can strengthen negative thoughts until they are overwhelming, according to Psychology Today. This can lead to outbursts at inappropriate times or feelings of hopelessness and despair.
When you avoid difficult financial decisions or try to manifest a way out of debt through toxic positivity alone, you may be putting “good vibes” into the universe, but you aren’t doing the work that will improve your situation.
Toxic positivity with finances can lead to future problems
Some subjects are uncomfortable to discuss, and contemplating death, divorce, illness, job loss or other financial insecurity is never fun. Still, most people can recognize the benefit of planning for unexpected events before they happen and even take steps to lessen the impact these topics have in our lives, like creating an estate plan or an emergency fund.
Pushing off conversations about life insurance, retirement savings or long-term care doesn’t protect you from the negative feelings the subjects bring up. Avoiding unpleasant finance topics now with toxic positivity will hurt you in the future if you don’t have a plan.
Suppose you rack up credit card debt with a you-only-live-once attitude and haven’t developed a plan to repay that money. You might be tempted to keep your head buried in the sand and continue to avoid the problem. Or perhaps you promise yourself you’ll sit down and create a budget but never find the time. In reality, the only way you’ll make your debt go away is to sit down, acknowledge the amount you owe and make changes to pay it off.
While optimism is a good and healthy characteristic, refusing to acknowledge when there’s a problem just makes it harder to improve your life.
How to keep toxic positivity out of your finances
While sitting with negative emotions like fear, shame and anger is uncomfortable, doing so can help us safely process our feelings and take positive steps forward. Here’s how to remove toxic positivity from your finances—and life.
Talk about the good and the bad
An excellent first step in removing toxic positivity from your finances is acknowledging that there are good and bad feelings and that both are valid. Having different emotions serves a purpose. Recognizing the negative emotions and the good can often make them easier to process.
For instance, if you’re trying to develop a budget, the voice in your head may say, You’ll never get it right or you’ll be stuck paying back debt forever, so why bother? If you push those thoughts away and try to distract yourself, they’ll likely return louder and more assertive.
Instead, consider engaging with that voice and asking it questions. It sounds strange, but the chances are good that the mean voice is trying to cover up fear you haven’t acknowledged. If you can discover what you’re afraid of, you may find a solution that helps lessen the anxiety and increase your confidence in yourself.
Make space for others’ feelings
Are you struggling to see how you might be relying on toxic positivity to avoid action in your own life and finances? It may be easier to identify it in other people’s reactions to you when you’re looking for support.
For example, think about a time when you had a hard day and turned to a friend for sympathy. If that person responds with “just be grateful you have a job,” or “at least it’s not as bad as…,” they may just be trying to get you to look on the bright side of a yucky situation.
However, with that response, they shut down your feelings and tell you they can’t handle negativity. You likely feel frustrated that the other person can’t see how much you’re struggling. Most people who engage in toxic positivity don’t mean to cause harm, but their lack of empathy can hurt all the same.
As an experiment, pay attention to how you might be shutting others down with toxic positivity. As you catch yourself mid-platitude, consider how else you could respond. Even something as simple as saying, “Wow, that sounds really hard” or “I’m sorry to hear that” can help others feel seen.
Be vulnerable (safely)
Fighting toxic positivity in our lives and conversations—especially when it comes to finances—is hard work. It can take time to reflect on your feelings and identify the root of the problem.
Talking with someone you trust can be helpful. A therapist, pastor or mentor can often help you sort through your feelings and gain perspective without pushing aside the negative emotions.
If you are working with generational patterns about finances or are having trouble untangling complicated feelings, try working with a financial therapist. These professionals combine financial advisory and therapy to help you see patterns and better manage your finances.
A famous saying in recovery circles is, “It works if you work it, and you’re worth it,” which can be helpful to remember as you work on changing patterns. You aren’t going to correct toxic positivity or other negative traits overnight, so you need to keep coming back and working on the problem again and again.
Bottom line of toxic positivity and finances
You can’t make progress if you don’t first believe that you can do something, whether in your finances, health or life. A good attitude is often integral to reaching your goals, and a healthy dose of positivity can help you stay the course, even when you feel like quitting.
Don’t let toxic positivity get in the way of making progress on your financial goals. Find the right balance between believing you can achieve what you want through thoughtful action and engaging in magical thinking that keeps you stuck in the same cycles, year after year.
Doing this work isn’t easy, but if you are thoughtful and kind to yourself, you can make progress.
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