More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder

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

by Ashley Dunnwald,
August 8, 2022

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

Social media is indeed a paradox in that it has the power to be both good and evil 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.

What feels like toxic positivity to one person can feel completely empowering to another. It depends on where you’re at in this moment and how a specific message lands with you.

There does seem to be an overall trend, however, of emphasizing how grateful and fulfilled we should be without the counter-messaging that sometimes life just sucks.

One of the hardest things about social media is staying in tune with ourselves. We go to our phone for comfort, distraction, and entertainment. Once we arrive, our brain gets hijacked by the content, and we have to buckle up for whatever ride the algorithm sends us on. 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.

When I first became I mother I was obsessed with the idea of gentle parenting. I consumed everything I could find on this parenting style. I gave it my best go, but every day I felt like a complete and worthless failure.

I was bombarding myself with an idealized version of this parenting style that social media made look so easy. After reading every social post, I felt like I was an idiot for sucking at it.

How hard is it to just speak in a calm voice and not lose your patience with your one-year-old? He’s literally an innocent baby! One that hits the dog, bites you while breastfeeding, or turns and runs into the street with a mischievous smirk on his face.

In my frustration I would go straight to social media to flagellate myself with messaging that had a toxic effect on me. I pivoted against my husband who had a more relaxed attitude toward parenting and put more pressure on myself to be a “perfect” mom. This created tension in my marriage and physical and emotional burnout for me.

Don’t get me wrong here, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with social media. The way it connects us with each other is truly wonderful. The current messaging to parents and mothers sounds so beautiful at first glance.

“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.”

My issue is that we are using social media as a weapon to inflict 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 every moment.

Or we might feel guilty for not feeling grateful. Or bad about feeling sad. Or frustrated because we can’t just “choose to be happy” when we’re feeling down.

My solution is not to delete all your social media apps (but go for it if that sounds amazing to you). What I recommend is to start actually noticing how each reel, TikTok, or post feels in your body. It doesn’t matter that it has beautiful music, photos, or a positive message.

If your brain is twisting that message to be used against you, it is not yours to absorb.

It is easier to spot the types of messages that we instantly don’t agree with. Anytime I see a perfectly put-together mom with three kids in matching, neutral-toned outfits, I mentally reject it. It doesn’t matter what the content is; this is always a pass for me. What messaging bothers you or feels toxic is completely personal.

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. So much of the messaging we see is meant to be inspiring and helpful.

A lot of times I feel connected and motivated by the positivity I encounter on social media. Especially content that is less perfected and less filtered.

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

I like to compare social media messaging to a food sensitivity. Tomatoes are not inherently bad, but if your body doesn’t react well to them, then they aren’t for you right now. You may heal or grow out of some particular food sensitivities and be fine with them in the future.

Giving yourself the power to pass on or to accept every message that comes your way gives you complete control over your experience on social media, regardless of what you scroll through.

You get to decide what “positive” things feel good to absorb and what “positive” things aren’t for you right now. My wish for each of you reading this is that you update your relationship with social media to be one that fully empowers and supports you.


About Ashley Dunnwald​

Ashley Dunnwald is a certified life coach whose mission is to co-create a new paradigm of womanhood and motherhood where women heal their nervous system, develop a healthy relationship with their mind and body, and live an expansive life on their terms. Her clients release stress addiction, unhealthy habits, and toxic self-judgment and create abundant wellness, relaxed productivity, and true inner freedom. Check out her website or connect with her on Instagram.
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