Toxic exclamation points

I would like you to step away from social media for a day.

Just one day.

There are many good reasons to do so, but today I want to remind you it’s okay to not feel okay – something social media would like you to forget.

Social media would have us believe life is all about the pursuit of happiness, and that everyone else is living it large, and there’s something wrong with you if you’re sad.

The reality is, happiness is fleeting and constant joy is unsustainable. Life is struggle, and without the downs we can’t experience the ups. I think peace is a better aim.

That’s not to say wallowing in misery is healthy or helpful, but throwing exclamation marks on the end of everything in hopes it’ll make people feel better isn’t healthy or helpful, either.

This blog post is all about toxic positivity. The relentlessly cheerful, exclamation-studded motivational phrases we throw about thoughtlessly. The pretty pictures stained with empty platitudes that litter social media.

Don’t get me wrong: positivity is fabulous. It can be a ray of hope when everything seems totally shitty.

But toxic positivity is brittle, shallow, shaming, and unrealistic.

I follow a counsellor on Instagram called Whitney Hawkins Goodman (@sitwithwhit) and she shared a helpful chart (you can see it below).

I love it because it explains empathy. If you’re someone who struggles to know what to say to someone who’s having a totally shit time (and I often struggle to know what to say), study it.

It’s tempting to resort to empty platitudes like “chin up!” and “things will get better!” and “think positive!” but please don’t.

Those phrases come from a place of good intentions – but they also come from a place of fear. Sadness and vulnerability make us all feel uncomfortable, so instead of embracing those feelings, we brush them off with toxic exclamation marks.

It doesn’t just happen with other people, either; we do it to ourselves. We don’t allow ourselves to feel sad or anxious. Instead, we beat ourselves over the head with the idea we should be happy or positive.

Sympathy is shouting platitudes into the hole. Empathy is climbing down there and feeling it.

Instead of backing away, hop down into the hole and experience the feels. For yourself or for someone else.

As the wonderful Brené Brown put it, “Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection.” We don’t want sympathy. We want to feel understood.

Next time you’re tempted to say something starting with, “At least…” or “Think positive!” – to yourself or someone else – try this: “I don’t know what to say, but I’m glad you told me.”

Or: “That sounds awful. Tell me about it.”

About the Author

Vicky Fraser

Please do share any articles from this site in part or in full — as long as you leave all links intact, give credit to the author, and include a link to this website and the following bio. Vicky is a gin-quaffing, pole-dancing, trapeze-swinging copywriter who writes about the perils and joys of writing, velociraptor training, and running a small business. She writes this stuff on her websites and She’s the author of one book (with two more in utero) and teaches small business owners how to write copy that sells, and how to be more fecking interesting. You can follow her on FacebookInstagramTwitterPinterest, and LinkedIn.

PS Life is good. But sometimes it feels like poo and social media doesn’t help. So today’s Sunday Service tip is this: turn off social media and walk in the fresh air. Experience bluebells, birds singing, cold air on your face.


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