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Toxic Positivity

There was a moment when my teenage son hit an emotional wall and I noticed the wooden plaque with an inspirational saying in the boys’ bathroom was flipped upside down. The plaque stated in bold letters,

I’m not here

to be average

I am here

to be awesome.

At that moment, my eyes were opened and my mind expanded to begin to understand his perspective. I immediately took the sign off the wall, marched downstairs directly to the fire pit in our backyard, and threw it in. I was not totally sure why, I simply felt led to make a statement based on how bad my son was feeling.

That sign hung in both of our homes and on different walls, finally landing in the boys’ remodeled bathroom a year earlier. I began to remember times this same son would comment on the sign, but I believed in my positive intentions and wondered why a statement like that would have helped me growing up as well as what I believed in the present moment.

As the months past and the motivational sign laid silently in the fire pit, I often reflected on how that statement of greatness (or awesomeness) could be motivational to one person, yet so hurtful to another.

I thought of other families who create a culture in their home that is founded on strong principles or beliefs and it seems to work for them. I knew them well enough that I could hear what they spoke on a regular basis, what their beliefs were, as well as how their children (and grown children) seemed to benefit.

So why isn’t it working for us?

Then I received an email from a local counseling agency that shared a perspective which helped me navigate this situation a bit more. It was titled, Toxic Positivity.

While reading through the article, with ‘joyful curiosity’ (and I hope you take a moment to read as well) I finally had the words to express my urge to throw that sign away. I realized that my son was showing me evidence that those seemingly innocent, positive words were “toxic” to him. It may not have had negative effects on me or to countless others, but to him (and countless others) he felt the need to have to be awesome –even when he didn’t feel awesome. Maybe it made him feel like he was always being judged or measured against a standard of excellence that he felt he could never reach.

I wonder if this sign spoke to him saying, “You just don’t measure up.”?

What if he just needed to hear that it is okay to be average?

It seemed what he needed most was to be able to show up in his home that held no measure of awesomeness ––just acceptance. A home that stated, “Who you are is good, where you are in your journey is good, and you are enough.”

What is interesting is that I could justify myself by saying that his dad and I do speak such life-giving statements over him. We have with all the boys throughout their lives; however, I’m not afraid to reflect on the other phrases I have spoken that may have been hurtful to his soul and I am not afraid to take responsibility for the plaques that I have hung on the walls that contribute to toxic positivity.

Many know I love to say, “flippin’ the script.” So in this love letter to you (the reader), to my son(s), as well as to myself ––just like my son turning the inspirational wooden plaque upside down–– I will allow this eye opening, mind expanding moment to impact my life not by sitting in blame and shame, but to take note and remember this is why Jesus came.

We are all doing what we think is best. We will make mistakes. I will accidentally share toxic positivity again in the future, but Jesus came to give us life in abundance.

When we make mistakes––even to the extent of hurting someone––we can seek the redemptive love of Jesus. No need to justify, self-protect, over explain, or try to over-correct the hurt. Simply beLOVEd, know you are already forgiven and apologize when needed.

This has been an invitation to have a change of perspective and to try to do things differently from this point forward. And for that, I'm grateful.

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1 Comment

Sue Parkin
Sue Parkin
Oct 02, 2022

Thank you for sharing. While I am a pretty 'positively charged' person, I would hope that dismissive and unkind things like, 'things could be worse,' would never come out of my mouth. I have heard those things from other people and have viewed it as ,' I'm stronger/smarter/happier than you and your sadness is a burden to me.

Usually, I've found those people are neither in touch with their own emotional health or others.

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