What is Toxic Positivity and How to Handle It

What is Toxic Positivity?

Generally, positive thinking is beneficial to your mental health. However, toxic positivity is an exception. Positive thinking can become toxic if you ignore negative emotions and pretend everything is fine. Imagine it as a temporary bandage that covers but does not heal emotional wounds. Ignoring your true feelings can do more harm than good to your mental health.

Toxic Positivity Examples

It’s not always easy to recognize toxic positivity in yourself or others, but you’ve probably run across some common phrases encouraging you to minimize negative emotions. Think about how these common sayings might fuel toxic positivity.

  • It could be worse. While this popular catch-all phrase is often true, saying “Things could be worse” could unintentionally come off as insensitive. Consider saying, “I’m ready to listen” or “I’m here for you” and asking how you can help.
  • Happiness is a choice. While some aspects of happiness can be managed, everyone experiences emotions differently. You may not always be able to choose happiness when you have a mental illness like depression or are dealing with grief after a traumatic loss.
  • Positive thoughts/vibes only. Those who use toxic positivity may ask you to surrender all your negative thoughts and only be positive for their benefit. Both positive and negative feelings are equally valuable. You use your emotions to understand your needs, safety, and desires.
  • Things will get better soon. Layoffs and financial stress can trigger anxiety and destroy self-esteem. Don’t forget to acknowledge the present challenge and validate someone’s emotions when you reassure them of a brighter future.

Why is Toxic Positivity Harmful?

  • It undermines emotions. Positive thinking and optimism at the expense of difficult emotions are not always good for our mental health. People who practice toxic positivity ignore contentious issues in their relationships and instead focus on the positive. When people are pressured to smile in the face of adversity, they are less likely to seek support out of fear and embarrassment.
  • It can come across as insensitive. Bereaved individuals who often receive reminders to move on or be cheerful may believe that others are indifferent to their loss. Telling people who are struggling to focus on positive thinking and a bright future is unhelpful in relieving their suffering.
  • It can cause guilt and shame. Toxic optimism encourages people to suppress or dismiss unpleasant emotions to feel more in control. A person may believe they are failing if they are unable to feel happy. This is a typical example of toxic positivity: you share your problem with someone, and they tell you to look on the bright side of it.
  • It’s not in our nature to be overly positive all the time. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Humans are pessimistic by nature. It’s an evolutionary adaptation. Humans are wired to constantly look for danger. Our ancestors survived by using this negativity-based survival mechanism.

Avoiding Toxic Positivity

  • Be honest about your emotions. Pay attention to how you truly feel. It’s normal to feel different emotions at the same time, and it’s important to honor and accept them. For example, it’s possible to experience joy and grief at the same time.
  • Minimize your exposure to toxic positivity. It’s important to surround yourself with positive people. However, spending too much time with people who are fluent in toxic positivity can be problematic—set boundaries with people who shame you for expressing your authentic emotions.
  • Take a break from social media. On social media, toxic positivity manifests itself by pressuring you to share the best version of yourself. Next time you browse social media, consider others’ posts as highlights rather than a play-by-play. Even your favorite celebrities and social media influencers experience negative emotions. Consider taking a break if social media brings on more negative than positive emotions.

Approaching toxic positivity

It is human nature not to want to see a loved one suffer emotional pain. Consider your approach when you initiate a conversation or respond to someone’s concerns.

  • Welcome all emotions. Each person’s feelings are unique. Recognize that it’s okay to experience negative emotions. In the event that you or someone else is using toxic positivity to cope with negative emotions, encourage them to speak freely.
  • Listen and validate how others feel. In the heat of the moment, you may feel tempted to offer a quick fix or say whatever you can to make someone feel better. However, that approach may make them feel ignored, unheard, or upset. Some people just want an open ear instead of advice or an immediate solution. Listening to others who are facing a difficult situation can help them feel heard and understood. Be mindful, avoid judgment, and give them your full attention.
  • Don’t shame others or yourself. Toxic positivity can lead to mental health stigma, which can make people hesitate to seek mental health treatment. Respect others’ emotions and learn how you can help stop mental health stigma

and support others.

When to Seek Support for Toxic Positivity

Although overcoming negative situations can build resilience, asking for and accepting help is okay. Whenever you find yourself using toxic positivity, drugs, or alcohol to cope with stress, anxiety, depression, or other concerns, consider seeking profession

al mental health support. When you’re ready, you can connect with a mental health  consultant in person or virtually. We have therapists who are skilled at helping you deal with these issues, so you can receive the support you need. Contact us today to schedule a free call with our Care-Coordinator: we’ll get to know each other and see if we can help!


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