What is Toxic Positivity, and What Can We Do Instead?
Updated: Nov 7
Being Positive is Good!
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.
So What is Toxic Positivity?
Toxic Positivity is all about those well-meaning but often misguided attempts to encourage people to "stay positive" and "look on the bright side" when they're going through tough times. It's the overuse of clichés like "everything happens for a reason" or "just think positive," without taking the time to truly understand someone's feelings.
Don't get me wrong; being optimistic and having a positive attitude is wonderful. It can be incredibly uplifting and motivating. But when it's used as a one-size-fits-all solution for every problem or to silence someone's genuine pain and emotions, it can be damaging.
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 Toxic Positivity 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.
How Can We Support Others?
So, how can we support our friends and loved ones without falling into the Toxic Positivity trap? Here are a few ideas that will help us maintain genuine connections and provide real support:
Listen, Don't Lecture When someone opens up to you about their struggles, the first step is to listen without judgment. Give them the space to express their feelings, whether it's anger, sadness, or frustration. Resist the urge to jump in with a "positive" solution right away. Sometimes, all someone needs is a listening ear.
Empathize, Don't Minimize Instead of brushing off their pain with clichés, try to put yourself in their shoes. Say something like, "I can't imagine how hard that must be for you," or "I'll support you through this." This shows that you understand their feelings and are there to provide real comfort.
Offer Solutions When Appropriate Of course, it's okay to offer solutions or a positive outlook if the person you're talking to is open to it. Just make sure it's done with sensitivity and respect. Ask if they want advice or simply need someone to listen. It's all about timing and reading the situation.
Toxic Positivity is a well-intentioned but ultimately unhelpful approach when it comes to supporting friends, family, or even ourselves through tough times. We all need a dose of reality and the freedom to feel our emotions, whether they're positive or negative. So, let's strive for authentic connections, genuine support, and a more empathetic world.
Remember, it's okay not to be okay. Life is a rollercoaster, and embracing both the ups and downs is what makes it so interesting. So, next time someone you care about is going through a rough patch, just offer them your presence and a listening ear. It's more meaningful than any clichéd positivity quote.
If you want to talk more about toxic positivity or anything else you can get in touch via the contact page