‘Positive vibes only’, ‘Don’t worry, be happy.’ How many times have you heard phrases like these or even used them yourself? These are examples of toxic positivity.
With all the advice out there, from therapists, on websites, memes, quotes, and even on this blog, to be positive, you might be wondering, ‘How can being positive be toxic? Isn’t positivity the best way to deal with negativity? How can being a positive person be a bad thing?’
It is not bad to be a positive person. However, in some situations being too optimistic can be annoying and insensitive, and telling someone to focus on the positive side of things may not be the best advice you can give them. That is how positivity can become toxic.
In this post, we shall discuss the meaning of toxic positivity, examples, why toxic positivity can be harmful, and how to avoid toxic positivity.
Jump to a section:
- What is toxic positivity
- Examples of toxic positivity
- Why toxic positivity is harmful
- How to avoid toxic positivity
What is toxic positivity?
Toxic positivity is defined as the exaggerated idea that we should think positively and try to see the good in all situations, even when they are tragic.
In recent years, using the power of positive thinking, positive affirmations, and positive self-talk have been some of the most recommended ways to deal with negative emotions. However, many people misinterpret this to mean they should be positive all the time which can be bad.
Toxic positivity can be destructive and poses a lot of risks to those who practice it as well as the people around them. It makes people deny their negative emotions believing they are bad and feel guilty whenever they experience them.
Examples of toxic positivity
Although it is not bad to be an optimistic person, being excessively positive can be toxic. Some examples of toxic positivity can be seen in some expressions and quotes people use today, such as;
- Good vibes only
- No negativity allowed here
- Everything happens for a reason
- Things can’t be that bad
- It could have been worse
- Focus on the positive side of things
- Don’t worry, be happy,
- Just be grateful for what you have instead of what you lost
- There is a silver lining to every cloud
- Look at the bright side of things, and
- Everything will be fine.
Other examples and signs of toxic positivity include;
- Telling a parent who just lost a child that at least they can still have another kid, or at least they still have other kids;
- Saying ‘Cheer up’ or ‘Happiness is a choice’ to a depressed person or someone who is feeling low; or
- Saying something like ‘Just be positive’ or ‘It was for the best’ to someone who just lost their job, among many others.
Reasons why toxic positivity is harmful
Whether you are the one who is inflicting it on yourself and others or another person is, there are many dangers and risks of toxic positivity. Some of the reasons why toxic positivity can be harmful and dangerous include;
- Denying your problems could worsen them
Ignoring or hiding your true feelings in favor of pretending to be happy is a sign of toxic positivity. Most people deny their negative feelings and problems when trying to become more positive. But seeing the good side of things does not mean the bad side ceases to exist.
As time passes and you don’t address your problems, this toxic positivity will worsen your already bad situation. For instance, if you are a victim of domestic abuse and are choosing to only see the positive side of your abuser or the situation, it could be counterproductive.
Denying your problems could also result in mental health issues because of bottling up your feelings or you might start having avoidance behaviors such as sleeping too much or watching TV excessively to escape reality.
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- Toxic positivity trivializes major issues
You cannot resolve some problems by simply becoming more positive or seeing a situation as less than what it is.
The response by the former president of the United States, Donald Trump, when COVID-19 first started in 2020 is a good example of toxic positivity. He downplayed how dangerous the coronavirus is saying it was a minor problem that would easily go away, and look where that got the US. Thousands of people died who probably wouldn’t have had he been less positive and toxic and seen the situation for what it was; a big problem.
Sometimes, things are just like what they seem, and being positive about them will not make them anything less than that. Being realistic and acknowledging your problems is one way to avoid toxic positivity. By knowing their magnitude, you can then take the necessary actions to solve them.
- Toxic positivity makes it harder for people to find and ask for help
Another reason why toxic positivity is bad for you is that you might feel guilt or shame for feeling the way you do and hesitate to tell anyone about your negative feelings because you don’t want people to think you are pessimistic.
If you are not the one who is too positive, but a friend or someone in your support network is, you may feel like your feelings are trivialized or invalidated when they respond using any of the toxic positivity examples above. The next time you need their help, you will think twice before asking for it or sharing your issues, thus resulting in isolation and worsening of the problems.
- Toxic positivity leads to dissatisfaction and disappointment
Toxic positivity can be harmful because it could make you feel like you are a failure when you don’t feel positive about a bad situation even after trying. After getting a lot of advice to be positive and that things will work out in the end, one can feel doubt and a sense of self-loathing when they don’t. However, as much as we try to find it, sometimes there is just no positive side of things. For instance, there is no bright side to losing a loved one, and feeling sad and depressed is part of the grieving process.
How to avoid toxic positivity
- Embrace your emotions and Manage them
When feeling frustrated that things aren’t going the way you would like them to or when something tragic happens, bottling up your emotions and hiding them to avoid seeming like a pessimist or weak can affect your mental health negatively.
One of the best ways to avoid toxic positivity in difficult times is by embracing your emotions. Emotions are a natural reaction to the things happening in our lives, and we shouldn’t exclude some of them because they are also part of life.
For there to be a bright side of things there must be a dark side, and negative emotions are a part of life and contribute to our growth. Humans are made to feel a wide range of emotions and it is normal and okay to feel how you feel. Sometimes venting or crying is the best way to start dealing with the pain and heal.
- Overcome toxic positivity by being realistic
There are many recommended ways to overcome negativity and become a more positive person, the most popular ones involving using positive affirmations and positive self-talk. However, some of them can be toxic and unrealistic.
They set you up for frustration, and you could become disappointed in yourself for not being able to think positively about a situation despite telling yourself good things. And the reason you can’t is, probably, that the situation is really bad, and no number of affirmations or self-talk without action will get you through it.
Being too positive is bad and can affect your motivation to take the actions needed to solve your problems. To avoid toxic positivity, you have to also look for realistic and practical solutions instead of just telling yourself that everything will work out.
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- Listen and validate other people’s emotions
Since you might also be the one who is too positive while dealing with other people’s hardships, you have to learn to be a better listener and communicate better. Eliminate the phrases mentioned above as examples of toxic positivity from your vocabulary when helping others in bad situations.
Instead, you can encourage people to be open about their emotions when talking to you, listen and empathize with them, and resist the urge to respond with a positive slogan towards what they tell you.
- Speak up
When you recognize the signs of toxic positivity in someone else who is probably dismissing or invalidating your negative feelings and telling you to be positive or see the positive side of things, inform them. Most people do not realize when their positivity is counterproductive and could be telling you these things with the best intentions and only want to help you feel better.
Making them aware that their being too positive is bad for you can be a step towards making them understand the meaning of toxic positivity. A good friend will change their behavior and come up with alternative ways to help you. If they don’t change, staying away from these friends might be the best way to avoid toxic positivity.
- Avoid social media
If you are looking for ways to avoid toxic positivity, reduce time spent on social media platforms. Most phrases listed in the examples of toxic positivity above, including ‘positive vibes only’ and ‘no negativity allowed here’, originate from social media. People use them as tweets, captions or hashtags on their posts.
Additionally, almost no one posts about their sad moments on social media but only their happy moments and achievements. Continuous exposure to this kind of content might make you feel bad about yourself, wondering why you can’t be just as happy as they are. Reducing your social media use or deleting the apps from your phone could be the most effective way to combat toxic positivity.
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The Bottom Line
As much as people try to deny its existence, toxic positivity is real, and many experience it and engage in it. Unfortunately, most people don’t even realize that they are doing something wrong. Even so, being too positive can be annoying and insensitive to the person on the receiving end.
As you can see above, there are many ways toxic positivity can be harmful to you and others, and one should try to find ways to overcome it. This is not to say that it is wrong to be a positive person. It is good, but like most things, when done excessively, positivity can be a bad thing. One must learn to accept all their emotions, be realistic, and use better expressions when helping others in order to avoid toxic positivity.
No one can be happy and positive all the time. IT IS OKAY TO NOT BE OKAY.
Read more articles from Aisles of Life here.