Helen McDermott: Maybe I should have told toxic teachers who tried to fat-shame me where to go?
PUBLISHED: 06:30 09 December 2019
Copyright Archant Norfolk 2016
Helen McDermott has always been a ‘nice girl’. But now she’s learned that being relentlessly positive, even in the face of extreme provocation, can be damaging. Perhaps being too nice can be toxic after all?
"Keep smiling through," sang Vera Lynn as the bombs came down in World War Two. Twenty years later Dick Van Dyke insisted that we all "Put on a happy face." Now it turns out that these beaming rays of sunshine, laughing at life whatever the circumstances might have been suffering from a nasty sounding condition called Toxic Positivity. A couple of American psychotherapists define it as "excessive and ineffective over-generalisation of a happy, optimistic state across all situations".
Toxic Positivity - I think it's what I must have had during all these years of being Little Miss Sunshine, putting up a happy front and being too nice but never really being happy. Our two experts go on to say that having too positive an outlook, not showing what you really feel like is "maintaining an illusion", and that makes you unhappy. I can sort of see what they mean.
At school I was always a hard worker and a good girl, at least on the surface. One teacher would start an arithmetic lesson by making all the girls stand up and then, one by one, telling them to sit down. Those left standing were the duffers, the idiots who were humiliated in front of the class. The teacher was cruel and nasty and deserved to be exposed. Some of us could have, should have challenged her but we were nice girls, too nice to rock the boat and we just switched on our positive little toxic smiles.
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At ballet school one teacher kept poking my tum and said that my mum was feeding me too much. Aged ten, I was put into a dining room reserved for fat girls, segregated because we were deemed too porky to be ballerinas. Saying nothing, being a nice girl, I just took it on my fat little chin.
Did this sort of thing have an effect on me? Oh, certainly. I've forever hated anything to do with figures, and as for my own figure I've fought a fight with food ever since.
If we suffer from Toxic Positivity what can we do to remedy the condition? Apparently, we should stop seething internally and say how we actually feel. I was thinking about this today as I tried to make my way through the Christmas shoppers.
What about that woman who went ahead of me but didn't hold the door? Should I have followed her into the shop and pushed a cake in her face? Should I have kicked the shins of those two women who stood gassing at the top of the escalator as I was trying to get off? It might have made me feel happier for a while but it wouldn't have made me too popular with them. And that's the main problem; those of us suffering from Toxic Positivity want to be liked by everybody and hate to be criticised.
Coldplay's Chris Martin seems to be fairly laid back yet he's said he won't appear at Glastonbury next year. The reason: he received ONE mean comment on Twitter. He explained. "I did pop up on stage [this year] and loved doing so ... then I saw a tweet afterwards that said 'You can always rely on him to come on in a tracksuit and ruin everything.' Sometimes these things hurt me, yeah, because I'm human."
So he's told them to stuff it. I hope he's happier for it. It made me think. Next time a door is shut in my face stand by for a flying pie. I also wonder if the counter to Toxic Positivity might be Benign Negativity, the way a grumpy old man takes care of life's little trials. I happen to know one quite well. I must ask him.
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