Life lately has been anything but positive.
Seeing the number of deaths a day rise, being forbidden from visiting family, friends, loved ones, and forcing ourselves to adapt to isolation, it became pretty difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And somehow, the “good vibes only” mantra that spread like wildfire through social media didn’t seem to quite help. And why?
Because we are allowed and deserve to feel frustrated, sad, annoyed, heartbroken, etc., we deserve to have days where we can just lay in bed and take it all in instead of faking this positive facade every day.
Toxic positivity is the belief that no matter how difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset. This is similar to the “good vibes only” approach to life.
And while there are benefits to being optimistic, toxic positivity rejects difficult emotions in favor of a cheerful mindset.
“The problem is that life isn’t always positive.”
We all deal with painful emotions and experiences. Those emotions, while often unpleasant, are essential and need to be felt and dealt with openly and honestly.
Toxic positivity takes positive thinking to an overgeneralized extreme. This attitude doesn’t just stress the importance of optimism; it minimizes and denies any trace of human emotions that aren’t strictly happy.
There are many forms of toxic positivity, and you’ve probably encountered one or all of them at some point.
When something terrible happens, people tell you to “just stay positive” or “look on the bright side.” While such comments are often intended to be sympathetic, they are more likely to shut down anything you want to say about your experience.
Another common phrase heard is “everything happens for a reason.” This phrase may initially come off as comforting, but it is also a way of avoiding someone else’s pain.
When you express feelings of sadness, someone tells you that “happiness is a choice.” This suggests that if you are feeling negative emotions, it’s your fault for not “choosing” to be happy. This phrase also minimizes mental illnesses like depression, exclaiming that some switch allows you to be happy constantly.
Toxic positivity tends to do more harm than good. Rather than sharing genuine emotions and gaining unconditional support, people find their feelings dismissed, ignored, or outright invalidated.
The “good vibes only” mantra shames and guilts those suffering into believing that their feelings are unacceptable and that they’re doing something wrong.
Toxic positivity also avoids authentic human emotion by functioning as an avoidance mechanism. When people engage in toxic positivity, it allows them to sidestep emotional situations that might make them uncomfortable. But at times, we also internalize these same harmful ideas and behaviors, denying us the ability to face challenges and feelings that lead to growth.
There are ways to avoid toxic positivity on both sides. If you’ve been affected by toxic positivity or if you recognize this kind of behavior in yourself, there are things that you can do to develop a healthier, more supportive approach. Some ideas include:
Managing your negative emotions, but not denying them. Negative or positive emotions can cause healthy growth in your life.
Be realistic about your situation and your feelings. When facing a stressful situation, it’s normal to feel stressed, worried, or even fearful. Don’t expect too much from yourself. Focus on self-care and taking steps that can help improve your situation.
Focus on listening to others and showing support. When someone expresses a problematic emotion, don’t shut them down. Make sure they know that you are there for them and that their feelings are valid.
It’s important to remember that life isn’t always going to go the way you’ve imagined, and that’s okay because these challenging situations and feelings allow us to grow.