The Abusiveness of “Be Positive” Memes

Every time I see a “stay positive” meme on social media, my blood pressure increases a little.

You know the ones – they have pithy sayings like “it’s ok to love yourself” “being positive is the best medicine” and “be strong, be positive”.

I could never really put my finger on what I hated about them. Maybe there was something wrong with me. Some cynicism that was interfering with my own progress through life maybe?

Then this week, I came across another, and realised what it was. I’ve posted it below.  It is targeted at foster children.

As if it’s that easy? The meme is effectively saying:

“Forget the abuse, the trauma, the neglect. Forget all the insults and the rejection. Forget all the times someone told you it’s all your fault. Forget being ripped from your home and school. Forget the multiple placements, the different towns. Forget the fleeting relationships that you wanted to keep, but lost when you were moved again. Forget it all. It’s not your fault. Move on. Now.”

The meme purports to be a positive, life affirming message. But it is so far from that. It is borderline abusive. The sub-text is that if you don’t forget it all and forgive yourself then it actually is your fault. It’s your fault for not moving on, for not getting over it. For not doing as directed.

Never mind the fact that trauma and mental health problems can fundamentally change the way the brain works.  Never mind the fact that toxic stress leaves someone hypervigilant, terrified and overwhelmed. If you carry on being miserable, then you’ll get no sympathy from us. You’ll only have yourself to blame.

I’m sure the only people who benefit from these Be Positive memes are the ones who already have something to feel positive about. It validates them. Makes them secure in knowing that they are where they are because of some superior mindset and inner strength – neatly sidestepping the privilege of actually having had opportunities to find positivity.

Positive Memes are like accusatory fingers of blame

They condescend those who are wrecked with negativity for not doing more to get out of their pit of despair.

Meanwhile, those who have little or nothing to be positive about are surrounded by memes – like accusatory fingers – blaming them, telling them, ordering them to fix themselves. No help is offered. No acknowledgement or validation. Just the Positive blaming the Negative for wallowing in a misery that was inflicted by others

So I came up with my own meme:

Be Positive Memes – making the already-positive feel better at the expense of those with nothing to be positive about.

Not particularly catchy or short, for sure. But then, neither is recovery from life-long trauma.

People can and do heal from trauma. They do, eventually, forgive themselves. Some people just find a way to get by and live with it. But telling them to pull their socks up is provably not a contributing factor.

So if you’re into meme-spreading, then I think it’s far more useful to write something that validates people. Acknowledge their distress and offer support with a message that says “you’re not alone”. Write something that pulls someone closer, instead of pushing them into the abyss.

2 thoughts on “The Abusiveness of “Be Positive” Memes

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