As Reiki practitioners, we are keenly aware of the importance of caring for our energy on all levels – physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Indeed, as beings composed entirely of energy, vibrating at various frequencies, we also know that maintaining healthy energies is truly the path to wellness, growth, and evolution. In keeping with this, we strive to tend to our energies as we work to achieve an ever-higher energy frequency. We encourage ourselves (and sometimes others) to “keep your vibration high,” “stay positive,” and “look for the silver lining.” These are all worthy endeavors, but it is important to note that embracing positive clichés and platitudes as a way of life can cause us to dismiss, suppress, and ignore the range of feelings and emotions integral to the human experience. By stubbornly maintaining a sunny attitude and demeanor, even during extremely difficult and painful events, we are at risk of inviting the phenomenon of “toxic positivity” into our lives. Mental health practitioners define it as, “The overgeneralization of a happy optimistic state that results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.” 1
Toxic positivity is a relatively new concept among mental health practitioners2, many of whom indicate they have observed increased occurrences in 2020 due to the ongoing global pandemic and the collective trauma it continues to generate. Unfortunately, social media platforms contribute to this insincere forced optimism, as evidenced by posts encouraging us to learn a new skill, perhaps a new language, to be productive, and to view the crisis as a gift and a chance to “improve ourselves” and “be better.” Additionally, we risk criticism on social media if we do none of those things and instead express feeling sad, anxious, fearful, and unmotivated – all of which are perfectly natural and normal during a global crisis that has claimed more than one million lives as of this writing. If we receive a scolding for experiencing these emotions and chided for being a “gloomy Gus,” we may feel shame and guilt, leading to additional fear, sadness, and despair. We may cope by covering our unpleasant feelings with a false front of calm to avoid further shaming, thus beginning the toxic positivity cycle.
How does toxic positivity manifest in our everyday lives? Characteristics include:
- Hiding true feelings
- Suppressing or ignoring an uncomfortable emotion
- Experiencing shame or guilt (or both) because of normal unpleasant feelings
- Pretending that all is well (I’m okay – really!)
- Reproaching others for verbalizing uncomfortable “negative” feelings, and withholding validation for those feelings
It is quite likely that you recognize yourself in some of these behaviors – I most certainly did! After all, we are human, and as such, we tend to shy away from discomfort or anything that can create unpleasant feelings. And from my perspective, Reiki practitioners, healers, and empathic individuals are more susceptible to the trap of toxic positivity, simply by virtue of our beliefs around what being “spiritual” looks like. We tend to be nurturing and compassionate individuals who care deeply about our fellow humans and our beloved Mother Earth. In my opinion, these qualities are necessary for an effective healer as well as desperately needed in current times. We strive to help and be of service any way we can, sometimes to our detriment, which is why self-care is vitally important for healers. Even when situations and events become increasingly challenging to manage, we rush in to reassure, nurture, and comfort, as we continue to be bearers of Light. Of course, these are intrinsically admirable and worthwhile qualities; however, it becomes necessary to realize that toxic positivity may creep in when we suppress, either consciously or not, our own uncomfortable emotions, tamping them down as inappropriate or unwanted. It is worth mentioning that emotions are neither good nor bad – they are merely “energy in motion.” However, we label them as good or bad, positive or negative, according to the feelings the emotions evoke, and we disregard and suppress those that cause discomfort or pain. But, as energy healers and workers, we know that suppressing them does not make them disappear – they remain with us, lurking in our energy fields or physical bodies until triggered once again.
In other words, disregarding our humanness, which comes complete with all the necessary flaws and foibles that accompany a lifetime on Earth, may cause us to reject those emotions that we deem unworthy or unacceptable and create shame or guilt. We may erroneously believe that fiercely focusing on “light and love” to the virtual exclusion of anything perceived as unfavorable, including the existence of darkness and fear, will accelerate our growth and evolution. However, living this way creates a chronic state of imbalance, because when we refuse to acknowledge the unpleasant and painful parts of life and ourselves, we cannot be truly whole. And because balance is an essential component of spiritual growth and evolution, engaging in toxic positivity hinders, rather than helps, our path to wholeness.
To illustrate, in my Reiki classes, I emphasize the importance of balance as a key to wellness and wholeness. As we progress in our spiritual development, it is easy (and exciting) to focus on developing the third eye, crown, and all the higher chakras. However, in so doing, it becomes easy to bypass the development of the lower chakras that connect us to Mother Earth and keep us fully present in our physical bodies, which is necessary as we live our physical existence. This bypass creates a state of imbalance, and the individual may feel “spacey,” scattered, foggy, drained of energy. For example, many students report feeling headachy or tired after the attunement procedure in a Reiki class. This is primarily due to the focus on, and activity in, the upper chakras and energy centers in a Reiki attunement. To remedy this, I lead the students in an effective post-attunement grounding exercise to restore balance in their energy fields. I also offer chocolate and encourage them to drink plenty of pure water throughout the day, which aids the release of toxins and helps maintain balance in the physical body.
So, we know the necessity of maintaining balance in our lives; indeed, our growth depends on it. Succumbing to toxic positivity robs us of this balance and, with it, the potential to achieve wholeness. Reiki practitioners, and healers in general, sometimes feel enormous pressure, often self-imposed, to always remain upbeat, positive, and optimistic in the face of extremely difficult life events. Holding ourselves to impossible standards, we tend to believe that we must rise above fear and darkness, chastising ourselves when we fall short, which creates additional shame and guilt. So, we tell ourselves that we must work harder to be positive and filled with “light and love,” as we ignore the unpleasant emotions tugging at us and pretend we can wish them away, or “love-and-light” them away. We continue in this manner even as our intuition, our higher selves, tells us differently. And so, the toxic positivity continues in an endless self-sabotaging cycle, until one day we realize that we are exhausted, anxious, fearful – as well as depleted, brittle, empty. Expending enormous amounts of energy ignoring, dismissing, and suppressing significant parts of ourselves exacts a heavy toll.3
You may recognize yourself in this scenario, and if so, you are not alone. In speaking with many Reiki practitioners and healers over the years, I have learned that this is an all-too-common phenomenon to which we are all susceptible. In my own life, toxic positivity has reared its head more than once, and I have suffered through the consequences of ignoring my “unworthy” parts, thereby denying my wholeness and sabotaging my wellness. However, with Reiki’s guidance, I discovered much about myself and have come to accept and embrace all of who I am. And along the way, Reiki revealed a profound truth – there is no light without the dark, and there is no dark without the Light. Our wholeness and balance dwell in the space that exists together within the Light and the dark.
Reiki also helped me to understand that when we welcome the heretofore unloved, unaccepted parts (the shadow), fully into our lives, we acknowledge the fullness and completeness of our true selves as sparks of the Divine. Indeed, we cannot hope to realize our full potential until we end the cycle of toxic positivity and focus instead on welcoming and integrating our shadow selves into our everyday lives. In so doing, we begin building our lives from a place of balance and harmony, recognizing there is room within each of us for the Light and the dark to coexist in harmony as we move toward balance and wholeness.
My next article explores how Reiki practitioners and healers can break the cycle of toxic positivity in their lives and reclaim balance on the path to wholeness and authenticity.
Article by Kathleen Johnson
3 Gross, J.J., & Levenson, R.W. (1997) Hiding feelings: The acute effects of inhibiting negative and positive emotion. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 107(1), 95-103.
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Kathleen Johnson is a Usui/Holy Fire III Reiki Master, a Kundalini Reiki Master, and a Certified Crystal Healer. As a Spiritual Teacher & Mentor, she assists others in discovering their unique path to wellness, wholeness, and authenticity. Kathleen is also a Certified Past-Life Soul Regression Therapist, and infuses Reiki into her work with clients’ past lives.
She is the Founder of UniverSoul Heart, LLC, a holistic healing and wellness practice based in Pennsylvania, USA. Kathleen enjoys teaching all levels of Reiki classes, from Level I through Master/Teacher, and is honored to assist others on the Reiki path. She also offers “Crystal Basics” and “Finding Your Life Mission” workshops for those wishing to deepen and enrich their self-knowledge at the soul level.
Kathleen was a co-host and presenter at the Reiki Rays Spring 2018 Summit, and also presented at the Winter 2018 and Spring 2019 Summits. She is passionate about raising awareness of the benefits of Reiki and holistic wellness and enjoys speaking to public and private groups.
As part of her commitment to raising awareness, Kathleen has been a featured guest in many radio interviews and is the host of "UniverSoul Heart Radio with Kathleen Johnson- Sensible Spirituality for Everyday Living", broadcast on Transformation Talk Radio.
Kathleen was selected as Top Reiki Master of the Year for 2019 by the International Association of Top Professionals (IAOTP) for her outstanding leadership, commitment, and dedication.
Writing is a passion for Kathleen, and her many articles about Reiki and Spirituality are published on Reiki Rays and in Reiki News Magazine. She is currently gathering information for a book and knows that Reiki will be with her every step of the way.
Kathleen’s website is www.universoulheart.net, and her email is firstname.lastname@example.org
You can find her on Facebook at UniverSoulHeartReiki, on Instagram @universoulheartreiki and on Pinterest at www.pinterest.com/universoulheart/