What is Toxic Positivity?

4.5 min read|905 words|Categories: Mental Health|
Happy mature woman with arms outstretched feeling the breeze at beach. Beautiful middle aged woman with red hair and arms up dancing on beach in summer during holiday. Mid lady in casual feeling good and enjoying freedom with open hands at sea, copy space.

“Don’t worry, be happy.” “Hakuna Matata.” “Good Vibes Only.” 

These slogans and many more flit nonchalantly through our vernacular, all urging the same mindset—let go of your worries and just be positive, no matter what. 

Well, if you’ve lived more than five minutes on this earth you know that as much as you might like to try and grin and bear it all the time, that’s just not reality. Sometimes you cry, sometimes you get angry and sometimes you stay in bed ’til noon. Does that mean you’re a failure? Far from it. It means you’re human with the wide range of emotions we all deal with daily. 

What is toxic positivity? 

There’s actually a phrase for this feeling of forced happiness, called toxic positivity. Toxic positivity is the belief that a positive mindset should be had at all times, regardless of how negative, painful or traumatic a situation is.

Don’t get us wrong, it’s important to be positive. In fact, it’s beneficial to your mental health to remain hopeful even when things seem dire. But maintaining hope and faith is different than forcing a positive outlook. 

Because sometimes there aren’t “no worries,” and sometimes you can’t not worry and just be happy. Life is full of challenges, stresses and difficulties that demand to be felt. When you allow yourself to feel and experience the pain of a moment or incident (as is often practiced in mindfulness), you are able to better move on over time and heal appropriately.

When toxic positivity arises, however, those painful, negative or challenging thoughts, feelings and emotions are simply pushed down, stuffed into a box and not dealt with. In an effort to be positive, you actually run the risk of hurting your mental health in the long run by not dealing with the emotions of the moment, even if they are negative. 

Examples of toxic positivity 

Toxic positivity can arise in many situations, either intentionally or as a result of not knowing how to handle a moment. It can be hard to miss and easy to slip into if you’re not aware of the signs, including:

  • Making others feel bad for not having a positive outlook;
  • Insisting on finding the silver lining, or positive aspect of a negative experience;
  • Feeling guilty about being disappointed, sad or angry;
  • Claiming that “everything happens for a reason” after a loss or catastrophe of sorts;
  • Hiding, ignoring or avoiding how you really feel; 
  • Constantly telling yourself that everything is okay when you’re actually in need of help;
  • Insisting that you or another move on quickly instead of dealing with the negative emotions.

There are some things that occur in life that neither make sense, are easy to handle or can be solved with a good night’s sleep. Some things take years to heal from, and rushing through the grieving process, for example, will actually lead to more pain in the long run. Therefore, it’s important to avoid toxic positivity and allow yourself and others to process emotions, both good and bad.

Why is toxic positivity dangerous?

Toxic positivity does not allow people to feel their emotions or process their thoughts in a way that is honest, balanced and genuine. In addition, it can be severely damaging as it leads to: 

  • Shame – We often need our emotions validated, but toxic positivity shames an individual who is simply looking for validation or even comfort. We believe ourselves to be incapable, weak or pathetic for feeling these emotions as a result. 
  • Inability to grow – We change in good ways when we allow ourselves to experience suffering and grow from that time of pain and difficulty. If we stuff those emotions, we stunt our growth and keep ourselves from learning valuable lessons found in suffering nobly. 
  • Guilt – Toxic positivity says, “No, you can’t feel bad because that means you’re focusing on the negative.” But feeling negative emotions doesn’t mean you’re being negative. It means you’re experiencing the human condition and it’s whole array of emotions, good, bad and neutral. 
  • Ignoring harm – Toxic positivity may lead to turning a blind eye to a truly dangerous situation in an effort to keep everything light and cheery. 

In order to grow and live a life of balance, it’s absolutely crucial to learn to allow yourself and those around you the chance to experience, guilt-free, all the emotions you’re going to face during your lifetime. 

Balancing a positive outlook and negative emotions 

Let’s make it absolutely clear that we’re not encouraging dwelling in negative emotions or refusing to ever be positive. Positivity is beneficial, and there are truly many positive things that happen everyday. However, when negative things do impact your life, it’s okay to be affected. 

In fact, it’s that balance of believing in the good things that happen and allowing yourself to also experience the negative things that occur which is so important to mental health. Both positive and negative experiences are real, and so are the emotions which come in tow. Therefore, just as you experience the situation, you should also experience the coinciding emotions. 

If you’d like to learn more about toxic positivity, or talk with someone about learning to balance positive and negative emotions, contact our staff at Pyramid Online Counseling anytime by calling 866-203-0262.

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