Back at it this week with demystifying another “spiritual word” people hear, misunderstand then use as a dagger to throw at others who aren’t like them. Toxic positivity. The western world is obsessed with using clinical terms to describe people and often creates more labeling, judgment and division through it. This is another example of that. In this episode I share how the term actually makes no sense, the various forms of healing across culture outside of the Western model, the privilege to even let yourself FEEL sad, cancel culture and what the term was *meant* to mean, which is only something you can dictate for yourself. Enjoy!
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Episode 388: Why The Term Toxic Positivity Makes No Sense with Sahara Rose
By Sahara Rose
Namaste, it’s Sahara Rose and welcome back to The Highest Self Podcast, a place where we discuss what makes You, Your Soul’s Highest Evolvement.
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If it’s your first time here, listening – welcome! I’m so grateful for you! I am a three-time bestselling author, I’ve been hosting this Podcast for over 4 years, and really, I’m an ancient soul in a modern body, here to make the spiritual journey fun and relatable. And I love having conversations on the Podcast, to really dive into conversations happening in the spiritual community. And not that I have the answers to anything, but bring in another perspective.
Especially recently, when I have been witnessing conversations on social media becoming extremely divisive. Lots of labeling, lots of name calling, which also causes people to retract; to be fearful of sharing their voice and their expressions. And to me, that is ultimate low that could happen, is this fear that is preventing people from shining their fullest light.
So, last week on the Podcast, I had a beautiful conversation with my friend Shaman Axel, all about the word cultural appropriation and what that really means.
You know, I had some fear around doing that Podcast because this word cultural appropriation is such a divisive term that is spewed like venom on people, and most don’t understand it. Myself, coming from, not only an immigrant background, but also an International Relations background, I really wanted to share it, from also a spiritual perspective, because I see so many people hear a word and especially well-intentioned people, they become so fearful of that word being thrown to them, that they minimize their expansion, and their growth, and their potentials.
So, if you want to tune into that Episode on Cultural Appropriation, be sure to listen to that after this.
But there is another word that was irking me and I was like “Do I need to do a Podcast on this” and my highest self was like “You know what, just do it”, because I’m sure there are other people who have felt the same and there just hasn’t been a voice given to the sentiment yet, that I have heard, so I decided to lean in and be that person. And again, like every Episode, you can choose to agree with it and you can choose not to.
But I had this realization about this specific word. Now, this word is toxic positivity. Who has heard this word before? This word is now being used, on Instagram specifically, people love to diagnose themselves on Instagram, that’s like the main trend I see. Then they learn this new word and then everyone that they disagree with, or isn’t resonating with them at this moment of time, they throw that word on them.
[04:01 ] Sahara
And, I was really pondering this word (toxic positivity), where does it come from, what does it actually mean, can there be some good, some truth to it, but where is this actually taking us? And I wanted to share some of my downloads with you, here on this Episode.
So, truthfully, the Western world is obsessed with using clinical terms to describe people, and this really creates more labeling, judgment, separation and division.
Now, this word is just another example of a long list of words of labeling that we have given ourselves, for basically everything, right? We’re obsessed with labels in 2021 and I don’t know where the trend is taking us, but I’m seeing a lot of people are awakening from it.
Now, let’s dive into this word itself (toxic positivity). Think about it, does it make sense to you? Does the word toxic positivity actually make sense? I’m asking you.
To me, this word actually doesn’t make sense at all.
Toxic positivity – there is nothing toxic about positivity. In fact, every single spiritual practice is based on gratitude and positivity. And even if you don’t believe that, there are hundreds and thousands of scientific research articles that have proven the benefits of a positive outlook on your health, your well-being, your longevity and your overall quality of life.
So, in fact, positivity is the least toxic thing that you can do.
And sadly, I have so many people, every single day, messaging me, sharing “I want to shine my light”, “I want to dance. I want to share my joy, my art, my poetry, my children, but I’m afraid people will call me toxic positive!” So, we have created a social media phenomenon, that, one word, that someone made up one day, we are now afraid of being positive because of it.
Would you go to a tribe, where people are singing and dancing, and say “Hey, you guys are being toxic positive, put the drums away, stop dancing. You should be very, very sad about your lack of resources. In fact, you should be very, very angry. If you’re not angry, you’re not listening, you’re not paying attention!” Would you ever do that to a tribe? Would you ever do that to a child? Would you do that to anyone?
You know, I want to share with you a story about these clinical psychologists that were sent to Rwanda.
So, after the Rwandan genocide in the early 1990s, the US government brought together some of their top psychologists and psychiatrists to work with the people of Rwanda, after this tremendous trauma that they have endured. After a few days, the people of the village kicked them out. So, the US government was like “Wait! Why did you just kick out these top psychologists and psychiatrists we sent to work with you guys on the trauma?” and they said “Oh, no, no, no, I think you sent the wrong people, because these people, they wanted to take us away from our community and sit in a dark room by ourselves for many long hours and keep talking about what happened, but here in Rwanda, we heal through gathering together outside, under the sun, holding hands and singing and dancing and telling stories and playing the drums and connecting each other’s hearts. This is how we heal.”
So, I want you to take a moment to just really take that story in. Take in that different perception of healing that is not so Western, clinical-focused. Would you ever call those people toxic positive? In fact, that is the most colonialist mindset response that one could have.
Healing does not look the same for everyone. And in fact, in many parts of the world, healing comes through gathering, through joy, through community, through song, through dance. It’s not through repeating and repeating and repeating the trauma that happened to them.
Yes, that can be helpful, for some people, but we cannot say that anything that is not that, is “toxic positive”, this is extremely repressive thinking.
In fact, song, dance, joy, community, gardening, nature, connecting to earth, connecting to your ancestors, these are sacred practices. Your joy is sacred, there is nothing toxic about it! And don’t ever let someone who learned a word on the internet tell you that your joy should be hidden to make other people feel comfortable.
You know, if you look at any spiritual practice such as in the Vedas, they say your outer most state, your true nature, is Ananda – Bliss. So, you are bliss, your natural state is bliss, you are joy! Look at any child and you will see it in their eyes, in their essence. We have just forgotten; we have created a self-demeaning culture where we have to hide our joy, our bliss, our positivity, to make others, who are stuck in their fear, and addicted to their suffering, feel better about their choices. Suffering is a choice, just as is joy!
So, being positive doesn’t mean that you haven’t dealt with trauma or aren’t even dealing with heavy circumstances at this time, it means that you are remaining optimistic despite it.
You, in fact, see your traumas as part of your gifts; your mess as part of your message. You aren’t trying to negate it, you know there’s actually nothing toxic about it, it’s actually in that grief and in that sadness that the true joy arises because it means you’re alive.
In fact, being able to see that and no longer create that separation between sadness and anger and joy and positivity when you can actually see the continuity of all of it, that is when you reach higher states of healing and awareness.
Even the traumas and the pains are a part of your soul’s unique curriculum to help you evolve and to see the beauty in that, even when you are experiencing it; to be positive even when you are in the denser emotions – that is what brings you healing, to know that no emotions is the end, it is just a momentary experience. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, you’re either positive or negative.
Simultaneously, you can feel joy and sadness, grief and excitement, they can all simultaneously exist in this moment. So, using a word like toxic positive is to, essentially, say that your emotions are in a vacuum and you can only be in one at this moment, and if you are not in this exact emotion that I feel right now, you are toxic, and it’s pointing the blame.
And let’s be real, people are not just joyful because they’re more privileged than you, they are joyful because they chose to be.
We all have points of references that we can see some of the most joyful people in the world, who are some of the most resource-poor, and some of the least joyful people in the world, who have been the most resource-rich.
So, the reason why some people are joyful is because they chose to be and they created daily practices to cultivate more joy.
I mean, I’m literally from the world’s most dangerous country, the country on the access of evil, where I’m stopped at airports, the country of Iran, and I am joyful as fuck! And my parents had to escape their country because of a war and a revolution, literally on foot, and if they lost themselves in the fear and the negativity, they would’ve never made it. Positivity is what helped them get through, to move to a new country where they had no money, they didn’t speak the language, they had no game-plan, and start a new life by themselves, from scratch. Positivity is the light that brings us through the darkness.
Looking at the positive, being grateful that they could escape, that they had a chance for a new life, that they had freedom – that is what allowed them to build a life that they now love.
We’ve seen this same positive outlook bring people through the Holocaust (If you’ve ever seen Life Is Beautiful), genocides, homelessness and countless other atrocities. In fact, it’s the only way that we can come through and heal, to remain positive, to have hope. And there are positive people who are handicap, refugees, dealing with dying family members, but they are still choosing to be positive. And if you haven’t seen that, I invite you to open your eyes to most parts of the world where people are celebrating life from Varanasi, which is the place that the most cremations happen on earth, no one is crying there; to the tribes in Kenya where they have ceremonies to celebrate someone’s life as they pass.
So, let us stop labeling other people’s joy, peace, gratitude, harmony, as toxic positive just because it’s not your current experience. It creates more blame and it perpetrates this shame culture that is hurting people again and again. And, like we all know, hurt people hurt people and I see the people who label others as toxic positive are the most hurt, but also the most committed to staying there. It triggers them to see others lift out of it and they literally can’t fathom how someone can be joyful, so they label it as false, “This person’s false light”, “This person’s toxic positive” because it’s easier for them to believe that that must be fake, that must be toxic, that must be someone making it up, than to actually believe that someone can be joyful despite everything happening in the world and their lives. It’s easier for them to pretend that that person doesn’t exist or is making it up than to take the responsibility that they have to choose joy.
So, where did this word even come from?
So, when I did my research on it, I see it originally intended to be a word used on yourself, like the word spiritual bypass, which is also another word that has been completely misused.
So, the word toxic positive is really supposed to be about you. Are you bypassing your own emotions and pretending to be positive when you aren’t? The word can make sense on a personal level, are you ignoring how you’re feeling? Are you not dealing with your shit? Are you trying to skip the painful parts of your healing journey? Are you ignoring the inner work? Only you can know that, no one else can claim it for you.
Yes, the spiritual journey isn’t always love and light. It’s not always fun. Sometimes it’s writing a letter to your parents, bawling your eyes about the things you wish that you could say to them. Sometimes it’s going into your deepest fears; sometimes it’s doing the scariest fucking thing that you could ever imagine; sometimes it’s standing in the face of someone angry that you set boundaries with, that isn’t honoring it. Sometimes it’s looking at the very thing you spent your whole life ignoring, for the first time.
This is all part of the spiritual journey! You’ll shed as many tears as you do laughter, especially in the beginning parts, there’s a lot there. And when you’re healing that trauma and releasing all that is no longer serving you, no one can tell you whether you’re doing the work or not because no one else is inside of you. You can’t even fully know.
So, some people need to spend more time in the shadows and, some people, it’s less of a journey there. Some people heal more through music, some people through therapy, some people heal more through plant medicine – how can we be the ones to judge?
Like I mentioned, in most parts of the world, talk therapy doesn’t even exist. Does that mean they’re toxic positive? No! They heal in other way – community, dance, ritual, connection with ancestors. It’s your work to find what supports you! And this will shift as you progress along in your spiritual journey. Something that may have worked for you amazing last year, may no longer work for you today.
And in fact, you’re never going to be totally healed, no one is! I am not! Not a single living being is totally healed. It’s impossible!
So, you’re going to spend the rest of your life growing and learning and unlearning and changing and understanding and reliving, and all of these things – that is part of the human experience.
So, don’t wait until you are totally healed, until you can be joyful. Just choose joy now, even for 5 minutes, even for an hour of your day, and let that heal your life. And then, when the shadows arise, when you’re trying to dance but the story in your head is saying “I’m too fat” or “I feel shameful of my body” or whatever is it, go into them, question them, journal on them, get coached on them, go into them. But don’t create a label to create more separation and division within yourself. And definitely, don’t let someone else tell you what is right or wrong for you.
Every single human is extremely nuanced, and we can’t even know the depths of our own suffering, let alone someone else’s. So, let’s, please, collectively, stop trying to label other people’s experiences, when none of us even fully know our own!
Another example I’ve seen of what is listed as toxic positive, are responses to the way that someone is feeling. Such as, if someone says they’re going through a tough time Let’s say I’m your friend and I’m going through a tough time and you tell me “Look for the positive” or “Everything happens for a reason”. Again, this comes from an external person voicing our experience.
If you want someone to just hold space for you and not offer their feedback, just say that, just say “Hey, I really want to just vent to you, I’m not looking for a solution, I’m not looking for feedback”. I have friends tell me that all the time, I’m like “Okay, cool!” And then, I sometimes have friends tell me their problems and I’m like “Would you like my feedback” and they say yes and I give them my feedback.
But we cannot control other people’s responses to us and then label them with these harsh clinical terms when we haven’t even shared what we desire. And most of us have never been coached on how to have a difficult conversation.
Genuinely, people are doing the best that they can, and maybe, looking at the best of things is what helped them get through a tough time, so that’s why they’re passing along that advice to you. It doesn’t mean that they’re malicious or toxic, maybe they just don’t know what to say.
So, let’s have more empathy for when people are sharing with us, as well as empathy for the way that people respond, rather than not stating our needs and then creating labels when the response doesn’t match our secret desire.
If you want someone to hold space for you, to go through your shadows, hire a Coach, a Healer, a Therapist, a Shaman, that’s not your friend’s job. These are untrained people who don’t know how to navigate these waters.
So, we are punishing them for something they never even signed up for, we’re like “Why aren’t you holding space for me the way that I desire”, they didn’t sign up for that, they weren’t trained for that, they didn’t even know they were supposed to do that
So, really, the toxic thing is assuming that everyone should drop what they’re doing and coach you through some of the most difficult moments of our lives, at any moment, in the exact way that we desire. That’s really the toxic thing right there.
Even finding the right Coach, Therapist, Healer, it takes time and communication and giving feedback. So, how can we expect a friend or a stranger on the internet, to meet all of our needs when even a trained professional could never?
I also see this labeling of people as toxic positive and blaming figures like Abraham Hicks or The Law of Attraction for all of our problems, and it’s really just perpetuating victimhood. If anything, it’s actually a privilege to not be positive; it’s a privilege to have people hold space for your sadness, your anger and your negative emotions.
In most of the world, they don’t even have that space and that privilege. They don’t have Therapists, they don’t have workshops, they don’t even have access to many books. They have to be positive because if they lose themselves in the suffering, they will never find their way through.
Really let that sink in, that you being sad is a privilege! Tell the mother with four kids in Honduras that she’s being toxic positive by singing and dancing with her children, despite not knowing how she’s going to pay rent. It’s a privilege to even be able to feel.
So, let’s recognize that before we throw this label. Beyond that, calling others toxic positive is perpetuating the witch hunt, cancel culture that we are seeing in the collective again and again. You don’t know someone’s life on social media despite how long you follow them. No one shares their entire life on an App and it’s narcissistic to even think that you even have a glimpse of how they should be handling their lives.
I see so many people “Oh, this happened to you, you should’ve been handling it like this, you should that”, you have no fucking idea what anyone is going through.
Secondly, believe it or not, some people actually have a positive outlook. Believe it or not, some people may be going through some really hard shit and still be positive. And that, may be a result of them dealing with their shit. Because when you’ve been in the trenches and you’re ready to move past suffering, you realize that positivity is the only way. No one is going to save you, you have to do the inner work.
When you realize what a gift it is to even feel, to even be alive, you have no choice but to be positive. It’s your natural state! This doesn’t mean you’re bypassing how you’re feeling, but you feel your way through the feelings to the other side, back to your true nature, which is bliss. No emotion is permanent, they’re all invitations to move us deeper into our true selves.
So, when sadness is there, cry through it. When anger is there, rage it out. When grief is there, journal your emotions. When heaviness is there, dance it out. But don’t hold onto any of them because none of them are you. You are Bliss, Ananda!
Again, let’s, please, stop trying to learn new words and use them to tear other people down to make ourselves feel better. If you claim that you’re toxic positive, then great, that’s some greater awareness to know about yourself, you get to do some deeper inner reflection, what a wonderful realization! But not every positive person is faking it. Not every person who is sharing light is fake, that’s you own inner interpretation, based off of how you feel about yourself. Some people have actually moved through their emotions to feel their way to the other side. Some people have a different cultural context. Some people handle things in their lives differently.
So, instead of belittling people who are experiencing joy, let’s celebrate it, because that means it’s possible for you too.
I hope you enjoyed this Episode! This one I really needed to get off my chest because it hurts me to see positivity be stifled, because it’s the exact medicine that we need right now.
So, thank you so much for tuning in!
If you loved this episode, I would love to send you a free gift which is the first half of my unreleased book “Eat Right for Your Mind Body Type”. This is a different book than “Eat Feel Fresh”. My first book ever which is not released anywhere, and I am gifting it exclusively to those who leave a review of my podcast in the iTunes store. So all you’ve got to do is head over to iTunes where you’re maybe listening to this podcast and leave a review, take a screenshot that you’ve left it and email it over to me at [email protected] and I will send you back the first half of my unreleased book “Eat Right for Your Mind Body Type“, which goes all into Ayurveda, Doshas, Plant-Based Nutrition, Body Types – all of the things in a really fun and engaging way. So, this is my gift to you for free for supporting the podcast. Every single review I personally read. It really helps the podcast be listened to by more people so we can raise the vibration of the planet together, and I am soul grateful to have you on this journey.
Thank you so much for listening and I’ll see you on the next Episode. Namaste.
Episode 388: Why The Term Toxic Positivity Makes No Sense with Sahara Rose
By Sahara Rose