Toxic Positivity Harms the Disability Community

How many times have we read on social media or heard ‘positive thinkers’ say that ‘disability is in the head’, or that there are no obstacles that cannot be turned into opportunities; that anything can be achieved with the right attitude?

In the age of influencers and life coaches, positivity seems like the gateway to celebrity status, no matter what effects those constant references may have on some people.

This “good vibes only” approach can cause more harm than good. “You are so brave” and “you are such an inspiration” are just some of the phrases people with disabilities often endure, sometimes on a daily basis.

Dr. Shahd Al Shammari, a Kuwaiti speaker and author, has researched human and women’s rights and disability issues. A multiple sclerosis sufferer herself, she describes toxic positivity as “when it erases the real experiences of pain”.

I wonder how many positivity talkers have had the experience of walking into a place and being turned away because the elevator wasn’t working, or the receptionist made a mistake declaring the place accessible by not not taking into account that even two not very high steps are an obstacle. No “right attitude” or “determination” will allow people in wheelchairs to enter a theater or movie theater without ramps. And the responsibility to build them does not lie with the disability community but with the societies of which we are a part.

A “good vibes only” approach can cause more harm than good

For more than a billion people with disabilities – who represent 15% of the world’s population – concepts such as freedom and equality are far from reality. Studies have shown that symptoms of depression can be two to 10 times more common in people with disabilities or chronic illnesses, and depression is one of the most common “secondary conditions” associated with disability and illnesses. chronicles.

Some of these problems have been mitigated by social media. For the disability community, this was a game-changer. Like so many people, I’m a big fan of social media because it’s a tool that has kept us unconnected with the rest of the world and given us the chance to raise awareness about many issues that we face. Yet, like many other people with disabilities, I hate the forced positivity she can portray at times.

A few influencers who are also part of the disabled community choose to show only the “good side” of their existence. It’s common to see social media posts that talk about “challenging disability”. Often we see so-called inspirational quotes such as “there is only ability in disability” or “disability does not define me”, which actually encourage people to distance themselves from their disability which is part of integral to our identity. It pushes aside the struggles that come with disability because, after all, few seek to hear the truth – or, in the words of these influencers, “negative vibes.” They forget that disability is not the enemy but a part of who we are, and that we must embrace it to progress, not challenge it.

The influencers behind some of these “positivity” movements are traveling the world, driving, skiing, skydiving and rappelling. Certainly, it is commendable that they try to defy the odds. But urging others to do the same may seem callous, as they seem to fail to recognize that each person has different circumstances, different disabilities, different financial capabilities, etc.

As a result, thoughts such as “the problem must be me” tend to arise and before you know it your family, friends and even strangers will see fit to say, “Oh, if such and such can do it, why can’t you? You’re just defeatist.”

A disabled blogger I spoke to sees toxic positivity as “when others [or even we, ourselves] casually ignoring our real struggles and challenges rather than acknowledging and accepting them – for example, saying or thinking that “others have it worse”.

Positivity can become toxic when pushed as the one mindset that should override all others. But the human experience grapples with a whole range of emotions, thoughts and feelings. To validate only the positives is to limit our view of the world.

Carl Jung, the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, described recognition, acceptance, and peace with the darkness within each of us as the only path to healing, authenticity, and wholeness.

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However, people want to escape pain, embarrassment and difficult situations. This is understandable. A disabled law student, who didn’t want to be named, sees toxic positivity as when it doesn’t respond to the other person’s feelings or the real situation.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told I was “brave” for daring to shop. Or being “inspired” to smile despite everything I “have to go through”, or being patted on the head and being told, “You’re very independent, aren’t you?” – to simply finish school and find a job, as so many ordinary people do.

I realize that most of the time these words come from a good place. But such statements can be insincere, as people dismiss obstacles and usually end their conversation with, “I’ll pray that you can walk.” I end up wishing that instead of praying for me, they would pray for society to change, to be more inclusive and tolerant. Or better yet, start implementing this change themselves.

To dismiss a person’s very real fight in the name of positivity is detrimental to the people they are meant to help and lift their spirits. Positivity cannot be forced. As in all aspects of life, if we don’t strike the right balance, even something good and well-meaning can cause harm.

Posted: April 18, 2022, 07:00

About Michael C. Lovelace

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