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Character trait: Toxic Positivity, Toxic Acceptance (Part 1)

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Jan. 28, 2023

Usually, antagonists or villains are emo and gloomy, angry and aggressive, suave and sly, or any combination of that. They are not generally associated with positive traits in their personality, or at least positively-associated traits.

And that's a shame, because real life sure does have a lot of variety in toxicity. It's not only in the Dark And Foreboding flavor. Often, it comes packaged in a nice, pleasant, frilly, bow-on-top package of happiness, acceptance, and inclusion.

Only, of course, not really.

People that have these behavioral patterns of toxic acceptance and toxic positivity, are all lollipops, fun, and games as long as you go along with them. If you oppose them or try to break away or even just dabble in anything they consider threatening to them, they will go into attack mode. And this attack mode is very specific: they will accuse you of becoming the perpetrator of their victimhood, even if you're only minding your own business.

If they are more subtle, they won't go on the war path immediately. Instead, they will manipulate and steer you away from what you want to do, by imposing their views on what should be done and allow no dissent.

In Inside Out Joy is an antagonist to Sadness, and does everything in her power to forbid sadness as an emotion- pushing it to the realm of toxic positivity. There are great videos on this on YouTube. Of course, in the end, she does come to realize what she's doing and she changes gears.

People on the other hand, may not be so quick to change. How would toxic positivity be evident in dialogue?

Here is a quick starter pack:

Actually, some of the quotes on the ‘genuine optimism’ list are still toxic positivity. Can you single them out?

And here is a succint description of the behavioral pattern of the trait:

I'm positive (see what I did there) that you have encountered people like this several times in real life. Peak toxic positivity is telling people with clinical depression something like this:

And this is a great way to get into the weeds about it: toxic positivity is toxic not only because it dismisses any notion of things being validly negative (and thus needing to be addressed) but because it also pushes to bend reality to the dogma of this positivity for the comfort of those manifesting it. For their “safe space” if you like- which is not at all the actual, genuine safe spaces needed by people who experience harrassment and abuse of various kinds. Unfortunately, the two get confused (purposefully or not) and we got either reinforcement of a dysfunctional set of perceptions and actions as well as further tresspassing and abuse of those who need their safe space respected.

But how does that need for comfort overwriting anything else in one's environment translate into further toxicity and problematic behaviors? Let's explore:

People shun science for some kind of new age or pop/viral fad, where things are always sunny, shiny, bubbly, and positive, so much so that they become blind to their problems and the additional problems they are creating. They create a fragile, fake comfortable bubble of false positivity supported by false facts, and attack anyone who will threaten to pop it.

The extra problem is that often, an element that is true, such as the powerful impact of contact with nature on mental health is exaggerated to the point that it transforms from being scientific to becoming pseudoscience. Once that is done, straight up wrong facts are served up as absolute truth, and people will buy it because it's in their bubble of false comfort (just google colloidal silver if you dare).

And with toxic positivity, also comes toxic acceptance: the demand for acceptance of these dogmas, assertions, and beliefs just on the grounds of it being a demand. And of course, the loud, rigorous, violent (verbally or actually) reaction should such a demand not be met.

The evolution of the Body Positivity and Fat Acceptance movement is an excellent example of taking a good, necessary thing and pushing it beyond the point of reason or safety.

But that is for Part 2 of this exploration of what you could design a pretty interesting and not necessarily directly obvious antagonist or villain, or even protagonist, in your stories. To be continued…

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EssayBee at 6:03PM, Jan. 29, 2023

This sums up a lot of the pseudo-spiritual self-help and "manifesting" stuff out there. (Also, a lot of "self-help" in general.) Telling folks the key to happiness is a matter of changing your perceptions/expectations is a gross misrepresentation of depression and unhappiness. Yes, some of it has to do with perception, but the problem of a lot of depression is that your brain does not allow you to change your perception, no matter how hard you want to change it. This only makes people who need help feel like even bigger failures, since the flip side of this help is essentially, "If you can't change your perceptions/expectations, the problem is with you and you don't really want to be happy." Of course, I wouldn't be surprised if this cyclical self-loathing "help" is by design to keep people feeding the "self-help" money machine.

Ironscarf at 5:06AM, Jan. 29, 2023

Ex UK radio and TV personality Noel Edmunds is a case study in toxic positivity. He claimed cancer was the result of negative attitude and refused to tolerate anyone he considered negative. When he did Deal Or No Deal, all the waiting contestants were isolated in a hotel for weeks and he planted spies to report back on any negative thinking.

Tantz_Aerine at 12:35PM, Jan. 28, 2023

DylanTale Comics: Thank you too, for reading and commenting! // And thank you everyone for your AWESOME DISCUSSION of this topic, and all the others I bring up over time. You make this worthwhile <3

Tantz_Aerine at 12:33PM, Jan. 28, 2023

InkyMoondrop: that's a salient point which I'm going to explore in Part 2!

DylanTale Comics at 12:24PM, Jan. 28, 2023

Toxic positivity is not only realistic, it's relatable to the world we live in today. I cannot tell you how many people I've come across who have had the mindset of "I'm your friend until I disagree with you" across many topics. You really nailed this article Tantz and I love how you exposed the freaking people who say those quotes from the left side all the time. I've found so many examples of this bullshit on Instagram and (more so on) TikTok. People there have claimed to be there for me and support me only to later on cut ties with me whenever I've been in a rough patch in my life. Again Tantz, thank you for addressing this proverbial elephant in the room (and by 'room' I mean 'world').

InkyMoondrop at 11:10AM, Jan. 28, 2023

Some people display these traits, while others are spouting "truth" all the time, not giving a single fuck about how they make others feel. I'd say these "subjective and objective" opposites are generating each other atm. Because maybe no one should tell you what to think of or how to treat an overweight person, but you can be damn sure that overweight person just has to put up with people constantly putting her down while they often even fancy themselves as helping. I'm sure she needs to just hear a 100 more times that she's ugly and unhealthy and she's a lunatic to think otherwise, but hey, no one should tell you how to feel and what to say! :D We can all find issues with one another, magnifying these issues or flaws while painting a picture rarely helps people in my experience and I can't help someone, the least I want to be able to do is just leave them alone. Maybe one day I'll master the art of not giving a fuck.

Ozoneocean at 7:58AM, Jan. 28, 2023

Let's all get matching "Live, Laugh, Love" tattoos!!!! XD

giovanni at 3:59AM, Jan. 28, 2023

reminds me of dolores umbridge from harry potter. a character deliberately create to be hated in a rosy package. marcorossi : thats called a deuteragonist

TheJagged at 3:47AM, Jan. 28, 2023

Oh and "I love you through all your emotional states" is a blatant piece of emotional manipulation, not in the slightest positivity. Sometimes people get on your nerves and it's ok to tell them to shut up. It's human, no one has an endless supply of patience and support. And perpetual whiners or aggressive a-holes are just as bad as fake optimists. "Your strength will get you through this" is also BS. Just another way of saying "Get over it".

TheJagged at 3:37AM, Jan. 28, 2023

Good ficitonal example off the top of my head... We Happy Few is all about pretending that everything is just dandy while literally shoving happy pills down your throat. Typical Stepford Wives or that one pink wearing, cat-fanatic teacher in Harry Potter, pretty much characters that are the personified version of the "this is fine" gif. "Your sadness makes me uncomfortable, so better start smiling motherfucker." Also very prominent in anime, the entire Yandere trope is pretty much this.

TheJagged at 3:29AM, Jan. 28, 2023

So tumblr, basically.

PaulEberhardt at 3:02AM, Jan. 28, 2023

True optimism: Never give up, because if you do you'll have failed for sure.

PaulEberhardt at 2:59AM, Jan. 28, 2023

You know what I hate most about toxic positivity? The way it seems to spread in administration everywhere, both that of the state and in big companies. If you work close to that, you are basically made to religiously repeat these "just stay positive", "you can do it if you really try" mantras in order not to be ostracised, potentially putting you on the firing list. For any sufficiently strong character it's only possible grin and bear it, if you care more for the money than what the job is about - which, face it, is what sensible people generally do. It's the one thing that has never failed to make me want to puke on a daily basis in a number of jobs I had, and I still wonder how many people actually believe the shit they say. Being called a grumpy cynic and loving it, I'll say just about everyone, because those who initiate it just do it because they feel they have to in order to fulfil their social roles (see Mead and Pearson).

PaulEberhardt at 2:48AM, Jan. 28, 2023

Toxically positive villains are the very worst (in a good sense) as are toxically positive protagonists (but in that case worst in a bad sense). I think Ms. David's quote sums it up best, when she accuses them of saying: "My comfort is more important than your reality." In fact, this is also the ideal reply to any toxically positive assault, albeit in a different, more sarcastic intonation. Toxic positivity is all about either having lost one's touch with reality or trying to suppress those parts of it that are not saccharine enough for their liking. I kind of pity these people, but as they quickly get on my nerves with a cat's chance in hell of making them see that what they do is not a good thing, I tend to switch from compassion to counterattack very fast. That makes me a cynic, grumpy naysayer, which I'm not, but I can live with that role very well. In point of fact, this very kind of interaction has always informed my comic scripts a lot, even if I rarely bring it to the front.

marcorossi at 1:38AM, Jan. 28, 2023

I love the concept of toxic positivity! I think on the whole the toxic positivity happens when this "positivity" is a way to control other people. But I think that Joy is the protagonist of Inside Out, and since she is the protagonist she has a character ark where she grows; this implies that in the beginning Joy has to be at least partially wrong or she would have no space to growth. I think that Sadness is more a foil to Joy than an antagonist, or perhaps she would be a sort of mentor (depending on the author different names are applied for similar roles), or if we go full Jung either the Shadow or the Animus/anima

bravo1102 at 12:59AM, Jan. 28, 2023

Life is not all warm, fuzzy, happy sunshine bunnies even in the Lunar year of the Rabbit.

Andreas_Helixfinger at 12:59AM, Jan. 28, 2023

@bravo1102 - Got me there^^

Andreas_Helixfinger at 12:57AM, Jan. 28, 2023

Admittedly there was a time when I used to have this attitude of "medicine today provided by doctors and pharmaceutical industries are just consumerist tranquilizers! Real medicine should cure the illness away so I don't have to keep taking it!" But recent experiences have taught me that these things aren't that black and white. Medicine and treatment isn't some sort of miracle thing and never has been. Medicine and treatment is just a way of dealing with the illness, wether it manages to cure it all away or - in my case - remedies it to the point that it becomes effectively bearable and I can live as normally again as is possible.

bravo1102 at 12:57AM, Jan. 28, 2023

"I will still love you in all your emotional states" -- the kicker here is that I won't necessarily LIKE you but I won't stop loving you. We have bad days and can and do take it out on others. Rough patches happen and you're still okay because you can be resilient. Not bounce back like a rubber ball but get through it. You've done it before, you've been through worse. Use that experience to get through. Doesn't have to be brilliant and bubbly, just do it the best you can because life can be very hard, but then so can you. ;) Improvise, overcome, adapt to quote Clint Eastwood's character in Heartbreak Ridge.

Andreas_Helixfinger at 12:29AM, Jan. 28, 2023

I think I've managed to single out two of those Genuine Optimism quotes. 1. "I love you through all your emotional states" My response to anyone saying this: "Erm... I think I'll have to call bullshit on that one. You can't be THAT loving." 2. "You are so resilient, and your strenght will get you through it." My response to anyone saying this: "Really? Could you say that a bit louder? I'm not sure my chronic intestinal inflammation - that I suffered an entire year without treatment and never got any better while I was without treatment - is hearing you properly. Are you saying I shouldn't have gone to see a doctor about that - getting a diagnosis and a proper medication for - letting it potentially mutate into bowl cancer?! Sorry, but not sorry, I think I'll stick to my four pills a day thank you very much."

Corruption at 12:29AM, Jan. 28, 2023

Toxic positivity has other faces. One being that "You can make this work, no matter how bad things get" As in, "No need to make safety nets in case things go wrong, because you won't need them." Another is is that "They'll understand and appreciate what you are doing for them latter" AKA "Ignore what they want, or think, and try to control them because you will get things right." A third is "I can just catch up with the project/research/work/whatever." Yeah, look at all the people who tried that in real life. Just reminded of an episode of Red Dwarf where the last human's confidence and paranoia are manifested. Confidence tries to get him to remove his helmet in space because "You don't need air. Oxygen is for losers."

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