When Positive Messages Feel Bad: Why I’m Changing How I Use Social Media

“How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.” ~Niels Bohr

It is a paradox that social media can be good or bad simultaneously. Ironically, one of the most harmful things about social media is the abundance of “positive” messages.

You’re probably wondering how something that creates so much comparison, self-doubt, and anxiety can be “too positive.” What I mean is that social media messaging is starting to put a lot of pressure on us to be grateful and optimistic about our life no matter what we’re going through—also known as “toxic positivity.” This seems to especially be applied to mothers.

Optimism and happiness are of course wonderful when they’re authentic for you. However, if you try to pass over your uncomfortable emotions or ignore what you’re going through, it’s similar to spiritually bypassing, where you try to skip over being a human and struggling through life’s challenging times.

To one person, what feels toxic to them can be completely liberating to the other. It depends on where you’re at in this moment and how a specific message lands with you.

However, it seems that there is a trend to emphasize how thankful and fulfilled one should feel, despite the fact that life can sometimes be so frustrating.

Social media can make it difficult to stay in touch with yourself. Our phones are our go-to source of entertainment, comfort and distraction. After we get there, the content takes over our minds and then we are forced to ride along with the algorithm. Even with the best intentions going in, we can get turned around by one video or post and find ourselves feeling like we aren’t measuring up.

Gentle parenting was my obsession when I became a mother. Everything I knew about this parenting style was consumed. Although I tried my hardest, I was a total failure every day.

My mind was filled with a perfected version of the parenting style I saw on social media. Every social media post made me feel stupid for trying to copy it.

Is it really difficult to communicate calmly with your 1-year-old and maintain your patience? He’s literally an innocent baby! A dog that bites while breastfeeding, hits you with his teeth, or runs down the streets with a mischievous grin on his face.

My frustration drove me to use social media as a way to vent and slander myself. I pivoted against my husband who had a more relaxed attitude toward parenting and put more pressure on myself to be a “perfect” mom. I felt stressed and anxious, which caused tension in our marriage.

Don’t get me wrong here, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with social media. It is amazing how it allows us to connect with one another. It is so lovely to see the message that mothers and fathers are receiving.

“Your babies grow up fast, so you should savor each moment.”

“Motherhood is the most challenging job, but so worthwhile.”

“Your house is a disaster, but you shouldn’t care about that when you have young children.”

The problem is that people are using social media to commit self-harm. Instead of taking these messages in the way they are intended—to inspire us—we criticize and judge ourselves against them. 

We can start to feel bad that we actually care if our house is a giant mess or that we don’t enjoy Each moment.

We might also feel guilt for feeling ungratified. You might feel bad for feeling down. Or frustrated because we can’t just “choose to be happy” when we’re feeling down.

You don’t have to uninstall all of your social media sites. However, I recommend that you do so if it sounds appealing to you. My suggestion is that you start noticing the feelings of each TikTok reel or post in your body. It doesn’t matter that it has beautiful music, photos, or a positive message.

Your brain may be manipulating that message against you. NotAllow your body to absorb.

It is easier to spot the types of messages that we instantly don’t agree with. If I see a well-dressed mom and her children in identical, neutral-toned clothing, I immediately reject them. It doesn’t matter what the content is; this is always a pass for me. Your personal opinion on what messages bother you and how they make you feel is up to the individual.

Our brain gets conflicted when something seems really positive, but doesn’t feel good to us. Since our brain doesn’t like being confused, we unknowingly spend mental energy trying to make sense of the discordance that we feel. Becoming aware of your emotional reactions helps you quickly accept or reject the messaging coming at you, so you aren’t as negatively affected by it.

We don’t need to villainize the content creators here either. I don’t think anyone (hopefully) is going out there intentionally using pretty messaging to turn us against ourselves. Many of the messages we see are meant to encourage and assist.

Many times, I am inspired and connected by the positive vibes I see on social media.  Particularly content that’s less polished and less edited.

When you come across a “positive” message that makes you feel critical of yourself, I suggest you mentally “pass” on it and move on. 

Social media messages can be compared to food sensitivities. Tomatoes are not inherently bad, but if your body doesn’t react well to them, then they aren’t for you right now. It is possible to heal and get used to certain food sensitivities.

No matter how many messages you see, you have full control over what message you receive on social media.

You get to decide what “positive” things feel good to absorb and what “positive” things aren’t for you right now. I wish each one of you to read this that your social media relationship is updated in a way that empowers you and supports.

Ashley Dunnwald

Ashley Dunnwald, a life coach certified by the American Life Coach Association, has a mission to help women create a new paradigm for motherhood. She wants them to heal their nervous systems, have a healthy relationship between their body and mind, and lead a fulfilling life.  She helps clients overcome stress addictions, unhealthy habits and self-judgment. This allows them to create inner peace, abundance, productivity and real inner freedom.  Check out her website or connect with her on Instagram.

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