What is Toxic Positivity, and What Can We Do Instead?
Updated: Sep 29, 2022
Optimism and positive thinking are helpful! Studies have shown that high self esteem and positive thinking can reduce the risk of suicide. This is not about being miserable or negative!
We give a lot of power to positive thinking, nearly everyone says it is a good thing. So, when does being positive become a problem? When we take positive thinking to an overgeneralized extreme.
Toxic positivity dismisses so called negative emotions and responds to distress with false, unrealistic reassurances instead of empathy.
Toxic positivity puts a spin on all experiences, even those that are essentially tragic. No matter how bad things get you should maintain a positive mindset. Only “good vibes allowed here” approach to life.
While there are benefits to positive thinking, toxic positivity actively rejects difficult emotions and tries to cover them with a false glitter of positive only. This isn’t optimism, it minimizes and denies a whole range of human emotions. This labels emotions as GOOD or BAD. Emotions aren’t either good or bad, they just are.
When life gets tough people tell you to look on the bright side. Let’s face it sometimes life can be really hard and this shuts down anything you might want to say about it.
Everything happens for a reason. Does it? Really? This diminishes what might be a really complex situation and ignores your pain.
You can choose to be happy No you can’t. This says it is your fault for choosing not to be happy.
You get back what you put out, therefore if something bad happens it’s your fault.
Why is it harmful?
Toxic positivity denies us the support we need to cope with what we are actually facing in the real world. This can be really harmful. Rather than being able to share our authentic thoughts and feelings we find our feelings ignored, dismissed or invalidated.
It causes guilt. It tells you that if you can’t find a positive spin on even the most tragic circumstances you are doing something wrong
It causes shame. We need to know our feelings are ok, and valid. Toxic positivity tells us a whole range of emotions are just plain wrong.
Keeps us stuck. While we can use toxic positivity to avoid painful feelings, we miss out on the chance to face them and grow.
It ignores real harm. Research show that optimism, hope and forgiveness causes people to stay in situations of domestic violence.
Stops people asking for help! How can we ask for help if we are constantly telling ourselves there isn’t a problem?
Evidence suggests a link between repressed emotions and physical illness.
Things to do
Manage difficult emotions, don’t deny them. Talk to a friend who will really listen. Journal your thoughts. Do anything except deny your feelings.
Be realistic about what you should feel. Its normal to be worried, stressed or afraid
You can feel more than one thing at a time. Managing conflicting emotions is an essential skill