toxic positivity

“What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.”

– Gabriel Garcia Marquez 

In the last decade social media became the primary medium in which we share our lives our memories, our stories. 

This effected the stories that we tell and left a mark on our souls. 

Toxic Positivity 

Welcome to my happy place. Two weeks ago I visited Sanssouci in Pottstown together with my wife Raphaela. It was a nice and sunny end of summer day, and we really enjoyed the beauty of this place. But did we really? Or did we exchange real life experiences for some pictures for social media only to proof that we are living our best lives. 

The Algorithm and Authenticity 

In the beginning social media served our needs to connect with like-minded people, to be part of a community, to have a sense of belonging. But over the time this changed. 

As the users became the product, these platforms looked for ways to keep us as long as possible on the platforms. They figured out that the best way to keep is engaged is to present us with information that upsets us. If we spent too much time on these platforms, we easily get dragged into a maelstrom that is hard to escape. 

But the platforms are broken on more levels than that. The algorithm became the gatekeep. To maximise our exposure, we try to game the system and trick the algorithm to work in our favour. What we miss is that we took the first step away from presenting our true self in order to please something that we have no control over. 

And when we look around, we see all these success stories and wonder how they did it and why we aren’t there yet. 

Caught in the social comparrison we miss the fact that the probably feel the same and are trapped in just like us. The exposure to social comparison, criticism, and cyberbullying affected our self-esteem, mental health and well-being. As a result, we felt pressured to present a curated version of ourselves on social media, highlighting our achievements and successes and hiding our flaws and vulnerabilities. This created a gap between our online persona and our real identity and make us feel dissatisfied with our lives. Instagram became a place of happy pictures of unhappy people. 

The Consequences of Emotional Avoidance 

We are in trouble. It is true that negative emotions are often ignored or suppressed in our society. However, it is important to acknowledge and express these emotions in a healthy way. The poison has leaked into deeper planes of my soul. In my moments of self-doubt, I can hear the voice of my inner critic: What’s wrong with you! Don’t you have faith! Why are you lacking self believe? All of this drives me further away from being able to process anxiety, fear, anger the feeling of lost and grief. The imperative of being positive all the time makes me put on my happy face and pretend that I am ok. 

A way out 

It says, when we put on a smiling face, we signal to our brain that we are happy, and as a result we actually feel happier. I wonder if there is any evidence for this theory. 

As humans, we can distinguish between a fake smile and a real heartfelt smile, and I also read that there are different face muscles involved in each of these smiles. 

“I wanna disconnected myself 
Pull my brains damn out, unplug myself 
I want nothing right now, I want to pull it out” 

– Disconnect, Rollins Band, 1994 

I felt a deep need to pull myself out of this, to strip myself so that I can connect to my body my mind and my spirit again. I wanted to regain the power over my thoughts and emotions. 

My antidote is my camera taking pictures. But instead of looking for the perfect moment I purposely create imperfect images. I take images that violates the community guidelines to make sure that I am shooting for myself and not for a social media audience. 

Embracing imperfection is Wabi Sabi 

What is the cure? To be present in the moment. 
Sounds easy – It’s actually very scary because we want to be accepted for who we are, but that also means that we have to be vulnerable. 

If we want to find a way to be happy, we have to stop pretending that we are. We need to find a different role model that allows us to experience our ego in a healthy way and to express our emotions in a in a constructive way. 

To see my life as a movie seems to be a good idea. In the movies we see the heroes struggle, make mistakes, take the wrong turn. That makes the stories so compelling. What if the same is true for us? We don’t have to go to a retreat in Nepal or India or California – depending on the gurus that we follow and admire. We can allow ourselves to embrace the beautiful mess that we are. We can walk on this path if we are willing to discover what is buried alive in us. 


1. **Psychology Today**, “Ignoring Someone: The Psychological Effects of Being Disregarded,” [Link]) 

2. **Psychology Today**, “Emotion Regulation: The Hidden Factor in Depression,” [Link]

3. **Psychology Today**, “The Problem with Suppressing Emotions,” [Link]