Oliver Lam-Watson shines a light on a topic many of us never really think about: when can positivity become toxic?
Oliver begins the video by saying he wants to talk about something he is also guilty of doing, which is “toxic positivity”. He then proceeds to explain that it’s a kind of treatment, where a person is extremely positive, especially toward someone else, to the point where this positivity is actually negative.
He quickly notes that not all positivity is bad and it’s generally a good thing to be positive, confessing that he is a rather positive person himself. “Ever since I was a kid, I’d always try and strive against my disability and my limitations to battle with that and prove everyone wrong,” Oliver shares.
It’s hard to remain positive, especially in the light of recent events, and he says that he’s been trying to share more positive content on his channel and social media. However, he confesses that he sometimes catches himself being a bit cringey in his attempt to spread positivity because he feels like he has to remain positive at all times and encourage others, which at times can actually be negative.
He continues the video by explaining that toxic positivity is “the idea that being positive and saying positive things is always the correct idea and attitude to have”. He remembers a time when he sought advice from a friend because he was having a tough time and needed to vent, but in response he got a motivational speech. This made him realise that being met with a wave of “you can do it” phrases when you’re looking for support can have the opposite effect. “You kind of just shut down and it can be quite upsetting and quite difficult when you receive that sort of explosive toxic positivity,” he explains.
Oliver once again says he finds himself guilty of doing the same, but he’s trying to learn and improve. He notes that people with disabilities or mental illnesses often have to deal with this type of treatment and says that many parents should take notes. He continues by saying that positivity is important and he’s found himself in situations where he’s only managed to push through by staying positive, but while it is important to stay optimistic, too much positivity can be bad, especially certain cliche phrases, like “the only disability is a bad attitude”.
“Sometimes it is important to mourn the loss and accept the thing that we can’t do and the things that we’ve lost,” he says. “And sometimes that’s not necessarily losing something physically.” He gives the example of his personal journey of having to come to terms with losing his ability to walk. “I think it’s really important to come to terms with these things and not just be brushed over with a really positive ‘you’ll be fine’ comment,” he shares.
What can be quite annoying for people with disabilities or chronic illnesses is others saying these phrases, which entails there is going to be a change or that their situation will improve, when in reality it’s not going to change. He continues by sharing more of his personal experiences growing up with a disability and how hard it can be hearing someone say that one day things will get better when you know they can’t. “Telling someone who is not going to get better ever to just keep believing and all they need to do is try and not lose hope is super unhelpful because it almost puts the blame on that person.”
He thinks back of all the times people have told him to not lose hope. He also explains how this can be damaging because, in a way, it implies that people with disabilities are in that situation because they didn’t believe hard enough and “it’s their fault they are disabled or depressed or suffering from anxiety”.
Oliver proceeds to talk about how, by only acknowledging positivity when someone shares they are upset or not doing well, can make them feel like their sadness is not normal, when “in fact, it’s okay to not be okay”.
“I think that’s such a good statement,” he shares. “And such soothing thing to hear sometimes.”
Another point linking people with disabilities to this is that, oftentimes, they are seen as motivational and inspirational icons. Oliver shares that, in his experience, whenever he tells someone he has a YouTube channel where he talks about his life as a person with disabilities, they normally assume it’s “super motivational”. He further explains his thoughts, saying that viewing disabled people as sources of motivation and inspiration has made it so when those people are anything but positive, it can lead to people misleadingly thinking they’re “looking for a bit of sympathy” or “might be attention seeking”, when the reality is that “sometimes we all need to have a little rant about stuff”.
He continues saying that it’s not being pessimistic, it’s just being realistic about your predicament. Oliver explains that it’s important to be realistic because once you come to terms with your condition, you can build on that and improve yourself. He once again gives a personal story as an example, sharing how a lady in front of the gym scolded him for being pessimistic when he told her his condition is permanent, and then proceeded to try and encourage him by saying that, nowadays, there are treatments for everything. Oliver then goes on a little rant about how annoying it can be when people try to give disabled people hope by saying there is a treatment and they know someone who knows someone who managed to recover.
As the video draws to a close, he summarises his thoughts on the topic by saying being positive is generally not a bad thing and it’s good to be so, but being overly positive is when it can get negative. He then offers a few tips on how to avoid crossing the line between positive and toxic positivity.
If someone has a cold, an injury or has fallen over, “I hope you get better soon!” is a good response. However, if someone has a disability or chronic illness, it’s better to say “Hope you don’t feel as bad tomorrow” or a general “have a nice week”.
When someone’s car breaks down or they burn their dinner, responding with “it could be worse” or “it will be fine” is alright, but when someone tells you they’re struggling or going through a tough time, it’s not okay to say this to them. Instead, you should “try and understand why they are struggling” or give them a hug, because sometimes that can show you care a lot better than words.
Of course, different things work for different people, so Oliver notes it’s important to communicate when someone is not giving you the support you need or is making you feel bad with what they’re saying. It’s important to be positive and it’s okay to be a positive person, but it becomes toxic when you try to impose that positivity onto someone who is struggling and needs genuine support. At the end of the day, as Oliver concludes, it’s all about acceptance, “accepting who you are, what you feel, what other people are going through and also the way they choose to deal with it and who they are as people as well”.
After this video, we definitely feel a lot more enlightened about toxic positivity. I you know someone who is struggling, maybe consider hugging them tightly and telling them you’re there if they need someone to talk to.