Toxic positivity is a fairly new phenomenon. It has appeared almost directly as a result of the “good life” social media image and the rise of mental health awareness.

In theory, more awareness and concern for mental health is a great thing. We’ve worked so hard to achieve global concern, but has it gone too far now? Are our attempts to cheer up every depressed person and calm every anxious one, actually acts of toxic positivity?

You can’t open apps like Instagram without being bombarded with apparently meaningful positivity quotes which tell you that “Happiness Is A Choice” or “Good Vibes Only

I’m sure these small statements are posted with good intentions, but they’re naïve. You cannot often cure mental illness with positivity, just as you cannot usually cure a physical illness with a healthy lifestyle.

There are a number of ways to spot toxic positivity.

You might be surprised to learn that you could be dishing it out too. We’re all victims and possible culprits of making our positivity toxic in one way or another.

Minimalizing

Minimalizing is a method used to reduce something in its importance. Toxic positivity is often dished out in small flippant quotes and messages, making your real feelings seem unimportant.

Our true emotions and circumstances are completely invalidated when we hear “just think positive”. They’re made to feel small as if what we feel is trivial and can be fixed with some happier thoughts. Boy, do I wish that were true.

When we’re struggling with feeling down or anxious, the last thing we need is a generic feel-good quote. The notion that being positive will make us feel better only undermines how intensely we feel our feelings.

Toxic positivity tells us that our difficulties aren’t, in fact, that difficult at all. Instead of any real help, we’re offered uninvested advice in the form of clichés. I know the people who say these things do mean well, but they’re unlikely to really understand what we’re experiencing if they think optimism will cure it.

Comparing and Contrasting

You can’t be sad, look how good you have it! You shouldn’t be sad, other people’s lives are much worse! These statements are perfect examples of positivity turned toxic, disguised as advice.

This kind of positivity suggests that all emotions and circumstances can be ranked on a scale. It tries to teach us that we all experience our troubles and feelings in exactly the same way.

Toxic positivity leads us to compare how bad one person’s life is to another. This is, of course, unrealistic. No ordeal can be compared to someone else’s because everyone experiences life and their feelings differently.

Toxic positivity is used to try to cheer us up and remove our suffering by telling us “it could be worse. It doesn’t matter what we’re struggling with, you should never feel like your feelings aren’t valid because they aren’t as bad as someone else’s. We all feel things differently and see the world through different eyes.

While the theory sort of makes sense – sadness over death should be worse than sadness over illness – that’s not how reality works. It’s not up to anyone else tell you how deep your feelings should be, based on a scale that doesn’t exist.

Negativity Shaming

Sometimes positivity becomes so toxic that it is actively anti-negativity. This leads to negativity shaming. Much like any other kind of shaming, it puts people down and excludes them from society because they aren’t bubbly, happy and at ease all the time.

Have you ever found yourself playing the villain in a group of friends who want you to “stop being so negative” when you’re just trying to be honest? It’s a terrible feeling, knowing your natural emotions are being dismissed because it doesn’t fit the vibe.

Some people try so hard to fake their own positive vibes that they refuse to acknowledge anything less than excessive happiness. This kind of positivity is toxic, and you ought to remove these people from your life.

Hiding Your Feelings

When toxic positivity has seeped into your life, you might even find that you’re controlling your own behavior just to fit in. When this happens, we start shoving our own feelings down so we fit in around people who spew positivity like a toxic venom. Fitting in is so important to us that we would rather risk our mental health than be perceived as being negative.

Toxic positivity tells us to compare our problems to those of other people, so we can see that we don’t have it that bad. This means we try to hide our emotions when we think the cause is too small.

It’s okay to feel down, even when the rest of your life is going great. No one should feel like they have to hide their true emotions because society plagues us with this artificial idea of a happy, positive life.

How to Avoid Toxic Positivity

The kind of positivity that’s turned toxic hides in the open, disguised as advice, support, and kindness. If you feel like you’re being dismissed with upbeat quotes and flippant advice about “staying positive” and “everything happens for a reason”, you’re probably right. Steer clear of people who don’t like to access their deeper emotions, because they’re unlikely to respect yours.

When you’re feeling negative, the best course of action is to open up to people who respect the way you feel. You don’t need clichés; you need to be told that it is okay to feel. Anything you feel is justified because those are your own true feelings.

Stand your ground when you know your feelings are real and when you feel that you’re really struggling. If you feel like you’re being dismissed with a fake kind of positivity, make your feelings known. Don’t let anyone get away with invalidating you with their fake happiness, always cheerful, phony-baloney toxic positivity.

References:

  1. https://www.psychologytoday.com
Becky Storey

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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Jo Alex SG

    This is not only true but actually utterly healthy advice: one of the greatest dangers in life lies exactly in not recognizing the seriousness of a problem, which is obviously tantamount to letting a wound get infected, a cancer grow, by downplaying their gravity.

    Out of the pretext of trying to avoid all negativity, toxic positivity actually backfires into those who are caught into the trap of complacent, shallow worldviews.

    Obviously, no sane person would promote nihilism either, that would be the other extreme. This is something crucial to keep in mind so that this attempt at self-awareness does not deteriorate into hopelessness, chronic depression or even fatal consequences.

    However, with due respect to the author, I just don´t think it´s a relatively new phenomenon cause ideologies of all sorts, both political and religious, have been actually doing this to all us. In fact, not only ideologies but the social norm itself, or, as shown in the article, the attitudes in vogue at a certain period, diluting our individuality in stereotyped behaviors, alienating us from our true inner selves.

    Thanks for this meaningful article, it’s truly a must read and share!

  2. Avatar
    Marek

    Personally agree with this article to a certain extent, that theoretical commands like “be happy, think positive” especially from someone who himself does not stick to these don’t help at all.

  3. Avatar
    Jodi

    I agree that it is so important to acknowledge and honour each of our feelings- the uncomfortable and comfortable ones. I think that when we label our own emotional states as either good or bad, we invite others to also judge our emotional states. I think it is also important to acknowledge that our expression of our emotional state affects others, and to honour the emotions felt in response to our expression of emotions. I think if we are encountering what you have defined as “toxic positivity”, rather than judge the other persons emotional reaction to you, accept that we are all human, having a human experience, and stop labelling emotions that are simply energy as good or bad- or negative and positive. Just as your emotion of injustice or feeling misunderstood gave you the energy to write this post, emotions are all amazing sources of energy and each is designed to give the perfect dose of energy to move us closer to our valued goals.

  4. Avatar
    Mark HULBERT

    In some cases psychological problems can’t be solved by positivity. But in most cases “depression” is reactive and quite amenable to amelioration by engendering a more positive outlook.

    1. Avatar
      Lee

      My ongoing depression was reactive to a negative family situation which spanned a lifetime. Two years ago I moved far away from my home state and the door opened at last. Thanks to a very good therapist back there I am finally living a happy life.
      In retrospect it’s pretty sobering to realize how many unhappy people exist and how unwilling most of them are to even consider change for the better. Focusing on being positive got me through a mountain of despair and anxiety. Once removed from the situation it all came together and helped me move on, at last.

  5. Avatar
    Lesley

    Thanks for your refreshing article. All this happy face stuff has definitely psyched me out in the past. Then there are the ‘law of attraction’ people who take positive thinking to a whole new level. They dare not think a ‘negative’ thought because that will bring down their ‘vibration’. They also fall into the trap of thinking that anything negative that happens to them is their fault because they must have caused it due to low ‘vibration’. This thinking is especially harmful for anyone who has experienced trauma. Whenever I’ve come across this on youtube etc it gives me a very uneasy feeling. Esther Hicks (a ‘channeler’) was the last one I came across. I personally feel she is a fake, not only that but a narcissist.

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