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via Sitwithit / Instagram

Validation and Hope vs. Toxic Positivity

A Helpful Chart to Explain the Difference Between Support and 'Toxic Positivity" was originally published on The Mighty.

There's no denying that positivity can be powerful. I know when I'm struggling with anxiety and negative thoughts, if I can hold onto an ounce of hope — that I'll make it through, that I'm not defined by my thoughts, that I'm not as bad as my brain is making me out to be — I can cope a little better.

The positivity we hold within ourselves, when we can manage it, makes it a little easier to get by.


That being said, perhaps counterintuitively, positivity isn't always the best way to help others. You can't make someone be positive. You can't sprinkle positivity dust on them and make their problems go away. And honestly, when people are seeking help and support, they're usually not looking for straight-up, inspirational poster positivity. More often, they're looking for validation that their negative feelings are OK.

I've always kind of known this but didn't think about it in a tangible way until I saw a graphic made by Whitney Hawkins Goodman, LMFT, owner of The Collaborative Counseling Center. She runs the Instagram account @sitwithwhit, and after she posted an image explaining "Toxic Positivity," I started seeing it all over social media.

friendship, mental health, validation

The full graphic showing the difference between the positivity and the not so positive.

via Sitwithit / Instagram

The graphic shows the difference between supporting someone with validation and hope, and trying to support them with "toxic positivity." According to Whitney, it's the difference between, "This is hard… I believe in you," and, "Just be happy!" If you could never pinpoint why simple "inspiring" quotes didn't sit well with you, this could be the explanation.

It reminds me of a popular animated video about empathy, which uses the words of Brené Brown. If sympathy is shouting down at someone while they're stuck in a hole, empathy is getting into the hole with them. If "toxic positivity" is telling someone to just "look at the bright side," support is putting yourself in someone's shoes, and accepting their feelings for what they are.

Of course, when we throw around phrases like, "Think positive," or, "Stop being so negative," we're probably coming from a good place. You're spreading these messages because you want people to be happier, damn it! So what's wrong with reminding people to be positive?

The hard-to-face truth is, supporting people isn't about being "positive." In fact, when you force positivity down someone's throat, it can actually have the opposite effect. "Toxic positivity" can make people feel unsafe expressing their negativity, and negativity thrives in isolation. It can make people think there's something wrong with them for not simply "choosing" happiness, and shame is negativity's enabling best friend.

When we're supporting someone who's hurting, we need to leave room for positivity to grow. And you don't yell at a flower to "just" grow — you water it. In this case, you water it with listening, with validation, and with unconditional support. It's OK to experience negative emotions, and with support, we can help people who are stuck in negativity find their own way out. Simply telling them to "be positive" doesn't cut it.

Thanks to Whitney for making this informative graphic! You can follow her on Instagram here.


This article originally appeared on 2.12.19


Oh, society! We have such a complicated relationship with relationships.

It starts early, with the movies we are plopped in front of as toddlers.

GIF from Disney's "Beauty and the Beast."

And continues through adolescence, still through entertainment.

"I'd rather die than stay away from you."

GIF from "Twilight."

And then guess what happens? We're peddled some more of what we're supposedly meant to be aiming for when we're adults.

"I was the one girl he chose from 20 other girls to be with. Now I know I'm special!" — me, mocking probably very sweet people.


GIF from "The Bachelor."


There are so many examples of this, it's difficult to narrow them down. Not to mention all the social cues coming in all stealth-bomber-like to beat one's psyche into submission. Like when single people go to weddings, their family members casually ask them, "When will YOU settle down?" And when a friend goes through a breakup, it's almost instinctive to reassure them that there's someone out there for them.

But what if not everyone is supposed to pair off? What if some people are — wait for it — happier when they're single?


It's kind of a radical notion in this culture, where pairing off is treated more as a foregone conclusion and universal life goal.

A study in 2014 from the National Bureau of Economic Research said that married people rated higher in happiness measurements than single people did.

You might have taken that study at face value.

But hold the phone! There's another recent study from University of Auckland's School of Psychology that tells a more complete story by comparing happiness levels among a very specific group of singles and marrieds.

How? Well they looked at something called "avoidance goals" and "approach goals."


What are avoidance and approach goals?

Well, what motivates each person is different. Some people are motivated by going after what their desired outcome is. Some people are more concerned with avoiding undesirable outcomes. People are often mixed bags, displaying some traits of avoidance and some traits of approach, and where they're at with it can change with other factors in life. But on the entire spectrum, some people fall on one distinct end or the other.

In the study, it held up that low-avoidance singles were a little bit less happy than low-avoidance married people. In other words, people who were more approach-goal motivated and married DO experience a bit more happiness.

But, interestingly, researchers found that singles who fall more on the high-avoidance side of the spectrum showed the same level of happiness as high-avoidance marrieds.

And theoretically, for those happy high-avoidance singles, they could very well find themselves miserable in a relationship for whatever reasons they avoid them in the first place. In individual circumstances, singlehood may be the best choice for some.

What does it all mean?

Some people love love and want to find their happily ever after. There's nothing wrong with that, and society supports that model. More power to them!

But for those of you wondering if you're weird or broken because you seem to prefer single life, there's nothing wrong with you. Don't let society pressure you into doing things their way, you magnificently beautiful lone wolf!


This article was written by Angie Aker and originally appeared on August 27, 2015


By the end of her first week living in Denmark, Helen Russell was worried about her husband's brand-new job.

She explained in an article she wrote for Stylist that she was sure Lego had fired him already because he kept coming home early.

Originally from the U.K., Russell was used to her home country's work customs, where late nights and long hours were worn as a badge of honor. She felt surprised and embarrassed when her husband first came home from work in the early afternoon — she'd hardly started her own day of freelance writing.


The trend continued, she said, and by Friday, her husband was strolling through the door as early as 2:30 p.m. But it wasn't a reflection of his work ethic. It turns out, in Denmark, working fewer hours is ... just what people do.

Photo by Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images.

This healthy work-life balance is such a crucial part of Danish culture that they even boast about it on the country's official website.

It's a major point of pride for Denmark, which has a reputation for being the happiest country in the world. The government encourages a 37-hour workweek, a designated lunch break, a minimum five weeks of paid vacation, extended and paid parental leave, and flexible schedules with the option to work from home as well as incentives for child care. On average, Danes spend less than one-third of their time working — and yet, they're still more productive than most of the European Union or the United States.

You might be thinking, "What's the catch?" But the truth is that Danish values and national attitudes are behind the country's commitment to work-life balance.

Photo by Jon Olav Nesvold/AFP/Getty Images.

1. Workers in Denmark are trusted to deliver on whatever their job is.

Photo by Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images.

By and large, people want to work. They want to do a good job. But many people wrongly assume that others are inherently lazy, that work is a reflection of our moral values, and that time equals productivity. (But, in fact, a lot of jobs that exist today aren't even measurably productive.)

So what if, instead of finding ways to pass the time until the clock hits 5 p.m., we just did what we had to do for work and then called it a day? What if you were actually empowered to take personal responsibility into your own hands rather than relying on the threats of a manager lurking in the corner making sure you put in the physical time at a desk?

That's what Denmark does. As Russell writes that one of her Danish friends explained to her, "Come Cinderella hour — home time — everyone from the receptionist to the CEO goes. We're trusted to do a good job; do our work; then leave." Maybe that's how they get so much stuff done?

2. Family is obviously important, but in Danish culture, people are actually encouraged to value their families — and everyone else respects it.

Photo by Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images.


According to Russell's experience, it's totally normal for people in Denmark to list their child care pickups and other family business in their digital calendars for others to see. There shouldn't be any shame in prioritizing family. (And if you don't have a family? You deserve the same freedom.) Also in Denmark, child care is tax-deductible, and the state provides maid services and pensions for the elderly.

This emphasis on family extends to the country's educational approach as well. Rather than using an exam-based schooling system, Denmark is "hugely child-centered and this leads to well-rounded and enthusiastic children," according to teacher Stephanie Lambert, another transplant from Britain.

The country's focus on fewer working hours frees up educators to invest in the personalized needs of students as individuals rather than stressing about uniform success. And as a result, Danish children have these same values instilled in them from a young age. It's ingrained in them by the time they join the workforce, and they'll pass these same values down.

3. Danes also recognize work and play shouldn't be at odds with one another. Everyone benefits from a little R and R — workers and bosses.

Photo by William West/AFP/Getty Images.

More work means more stress, which means more health problems and less getting done. Maybe that's one reason why the Danes spend so much less on health care?

Studies have shown vacations make our brains more creative, which is why vacation days should not be treated as some rare commodity, hoarded like gold for some far-future payoff, or used to cover for other personal matters. People in Denmark receive a minimum five weeks of paid vacation time, and they actually use it — without any fear of shame or social stigma.

It's a simple truth that many Danes recognize, from day laborers to high-end executives: Happier workers are better workers. "We think everyone has a right to be respected, from a CEO to a janitor," Danish psychotherapist Iben Sandahl told The Local. "We try to teach our children to focus on the good in themselves and others rather than on status or labels."

Denmark's model of work-life balance is proof that time is not the same as productivity, and treating people well is actually better for everyone.


Granted, there are some people who think the Danish secret to happiness is actually just lowered expectations. Yet, being humble, realistic, and appreciative isn't such a bad thing.

Either way, the Danes have proven a healthy moderation of labor and leisure is not only possible, but it's measurably preferable to forcing people to live to work and work themselves to death. Maybe it's time the rest of us followed their example.


This article originally appeared on November 23, 2016





Know the signs of a domestic abuser.

Most abusers don't start their relationships by hitting their partners. That's why early warning signs are vital to recognize.

I know two women who recently left abusive partners. Both men seemed sweet and likable—even gentle—each time I saw them. Both had some lovely qualities as people and even as partners. And both turned out to be controlling, increasingly abusive partners behind closed doors.



The thing about domestic violence is that most people don't enter into relationships with someone who abuses them from the get go. It's often like the analogy of the frog in boiling water. If you place a frog into a pot of boiling water, it'll jump right out. But if you put it in a cool pot and gradually increase the temperature, the frog won't recognize that it's being slowly cooked until it's too late.

Abuse usually comes on gradually, with plenty of opportunity to manipulate and forgive and justify the water getting warmer. That's why many stay in abusive relationships far longer than they should.

A domestic violence counselor suggests a simple test to help identify potential abusers early in a relationship.

Rob Andrews is a domestic violence counselor in Australia. He told ABC News that he advises people to use what he calls the "No Test" to identify potential red flags early on in a relationship.

"The No Test is basically to watch out for the way your partner responds the first time you change your mind or say no," Andrews said.

"While expressing disappointment is OK, it's not the same as annoyed. Annoyed is 'how dare you,' a sign of ownership or entitlement."

Ownership, entitlement, control—these are red flags that often lead to increasingly abusive behavior. And though women can definitely be abusers, the reality is that women are much more likely to be the victims of domestic violence and male abusers tend to be more dangerous to their partners.

"A lot of the women who will present to services will see themselves as part of the problem," Andrews said. "They'll ask themselves why they're always attracted to abusive men, blame themselves for not being assertive enough, blame themselves for pushing their partner's buttons, causing their anger."

"With the No Test, we're not trying to give women knowledge that they didn't already know," he said, "but when they see it in black and white in front of them like that, they realize they of course have the right to say no, that they aren't to blame."

Andrews describes our patriarchal history as "the nut of the problem."

Andrews said that some people erroneously tell women that they should just be more assertive with their partners, letting them know they won't stand for controlling or abusive behavior, but that's not always the best tack to take.

"Being assertive with a man who's threatening to bash you is not a very good idea," he said. "It almost comes from what I'd call 'deficit thinking,' that somehow these women need to be trained up so that the people won't abuse them. The only person who can stop the abuse is the person who is doing the abusing."

Andrews works with men who are struggling with their own behavior and want to change. He has them think about what kind of man they really want to be and work with them to align their behavior with that vision.

"I hear a lot of people saying how it's so hard for men now, it's all so confusing," he said. "It's very easy to be a man. Just be polite and respectful to people, it's not that difficult really."

"But in saying that," he added, "we are to some extent dealing with 2,000 years of history of women being a second-class citizen. That's the nut of the problem and we've got to keep chipping away at it."


This article originally appeared on 02.11.19