Have you ever been accused of toxic positivity? Have your “positive” comments ever seemed to make people uncomfortable instead of cheering them up?
While it’s great to have a positive attitude, not all positivity is good. Staying positive is no longer helpful when it creates a toxic environment for yourself and others.
But what is toxic positivity? How can positivity be bad when it’s meant to improve the lives of others?
We’re here to talk about it. Keep reading to learn the signs of toxic positivity and what you should do instead.
What Is Toxic Positivity?
Toxic positivity is often confused with reckless optimism, which means to accept, and try to see the best in situations that are suboptimal (or downright bad). Reckless optimism doesn’t ignore or discredit the bad situation; it merely tries to move past it.
Toxic positivity, on the other hand, often pretends that the bad thing is actually a good thing or a thing that should be easy to overcome.
It silences the human experience and replaces it with platitudes and ineffective advice about seeing the bright side of things at the expense of the downsides.
Examples and signs of toxic positivity include:
- Trying to (or recommending others to) “get over it” instead of work through it
- Suppressing normal human emotions to seem happier
- Offering perspective that no one asked for
- Denying or invalidating people’s experiences
- Maligning people who feel and express normal negative emotions
- Accepting bad things as the only possible option (“It is what it is”)
Why Is Toxic Positivity Harmful to Mental Health?
While toxic positivity may seem helpful (after all, is it really good to ruminate on bad experiences?), it’s doing more harm than good. It can isolate you from the people around you and you might not understand why these people are avoiding you.
Here are a few things that make toxic positivity so “toxic.”
When you’re using toxic positivity for your own problems you’re teaching yourself to live inauthentically. You’re creating reasons for your bad experiences instead of admitting that something is wrong.
When you don’t accept that things could be better, you might not make an effort to actually change them. You’d rather continue living in that inauthentic way.
You may see people online who post frequently on social media about their perfect lives when you know that things are actually not so great. They’re projecting the ideal life in their heads with staged photos and platitudes and denying their real experiences.
Excess Shame and Guilt
Do you want your friends and family to feel comfortable confiding in you? When you express toxic positivity, either about yourself or others, you’re telling them that it’s wrong to feel bad sometimes.
The person may get the idea that bad emotions are unwelcome or that they’re weak for feeling them. If they look up to you they may feel inadequate unless they’re also projecting that positivity.
You might also be hiding guilt underneath that positivity. When you’re trying to be positive under every circumstance, do you feel bad when you don’t actually feel that way?
Suppressing Your Own Emotions
Speaking of guilt, when you use toxic positivity, you’re suppressing your own emotions. You’re not letting yourself feel things in order to get through them.
Part of emotional maturity is allowing emotions to pass over you without letting them control you. When you deny these emotions, you’re allowing them to bottle up. This can lead to conflict or worse emotions in the future.
Toxic positivity means that you’re not letting yourself process your emotions at all. Rather, you’re telling yourself that these emotions are an inappropriate response to the situation at hand.
Hurting or Invalidating Those Around You
Even if you’re not invalidating your own emotions, by using toxic positivity on others, you’re invalidating theirs.
As a friend, your job is to validate emotions unless otherwise asked. You can ask your friend if they’re looking for validation, listening, or perspective, but you should never offer your perspective (if it conflicts with their feelings) unless they’re ready to hear it.
By offering a perspective that’s positive to the point of being toxic, you’re showing them that you don’t believe in their lived experiences. The ties between toxic positivity and mental health are strong, and you don’t want to tell your friends that their mental health concerns are a result of “not staying positive.”
What Should You Do Instead?
So if being positive isn’t the right answer, how should you respond to bad situations in your own life or the lives of others? Does it mean you should dwell on these things?
Not at all. Toxic positivity isn’t the only option. You should stay positive overall so you don’t spiral, but that doesn’t have to mean that you neglect your own emotions or the emotions of the people around you.
You need to let emotions pass over you and learn how to process them. Many people say that the only way out is through, and this is true. Toxic positivity is a form of avoidance. You’re not fixing your problems; you’re pretending that they don’t exist.
For yourself, take time to engage in self-care. Recognize your feelings and talk about them in a healthy way with others. Consider seeing a therapist or counselor that will listen to you without bias.
When responding to others, always ask them what they need from your conversation. When appropriate, tell them that their emotions are valid.
While your advice may be appropriate in the future, when someone is feeling bad it isn’t useful to tell them why they’re wrong.
Are You Guilty of Toxic Positivity?
If you’ve been wondering “What is toxic positivity anyway?” and these things seem familiar, it might be time to assess your situation and figure out why you’re using this false positivity.
When you aim for authenticity you’ll provide a healthy space for yourself and others to work through their emotions. You owe that to yourself.
Are you in need of therapy to help you process your emotions? Our caring mental health professionals want to help you.
At Southern California Sunrise, we know how hard it is to heal. Contact us to begin your journey to mental wellness.