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What Is Toxic Positivity and How Can We Avoid It?

At least once in our lives, we experienced being told to "just be positive" after opening up about our struggles.

We’ve all been there. We all had our bad days, bad week, or even a bad year—moments when we just want to curl up in bed and cry because everything is frustrating, sad, and maddening. For some of us, we had a person or two to air these negative feelings out. And while these people mean well, some of their advice and “ways to help” isn’t really helping with coping with the negative feelings.

You’ve probably heard a friend say, “just look on the bright side, some people had it worse than you.” Or the classic “just stay positive.” These phrases might be motivational for some, but they also encourage running away from one’s emotions. As they say, there’s a thin line between genuine optimism and toxic positivity. (Read: Here’s a Prayer to Start Your Week with Positivity)

It’s easy to blurt out positive statements when someone we love is feeling down. After all, what we want is for them to be happy, right? It’s okay to say “cheer up” to someone who ruined has a meal. But in some severe situations—a person was diagnosed with a chronic illness, has lost a loved one, or has anxiety and depression—these statements could hurt more than help.

These “positive statements: leave the person feeling guilty for not being strong enough to better themselves. They tend to doubt themselves at a time when confidence is what they need the most. (Read: 5 Easy Ways to ‘Be There’ For A Loved One With Depression)

What is toxic positivity?

toxic-positivity

Toxic positivity is the concept that keeping positive all the time is the right way to live your life. It means only focusing on positive things and rejecting anything that may trigger negative emotions. While that sounds good to hear, it’s actually a not so great concept of living.

Being toxic positive means that one employs excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy and optimistic state across all situations. This creates a denial and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.

Why is toxic positivity, toxic?

toxic-positivity
Photo from The Psychology Group Fort Lauderdale

It’s not wrong to be upbeat at times. In fact, it’s actually an important component to live a happy and healthy life. However, it is also quite important to recognize that feeling our range of emotions—good, bad, and meh—is the healthier route.

Research shows that it is much healthier to accept, and not reject, our negative emotions. In doing this, it actually helps us defuse them which will lead to fewer negative emotions over time. (Read: Heart Evangelista on her depression, anxiety: ‘I battled for quite some time’)

Let’s go back to the definition of toxic positivity. We all know that everything done in excess is bad for us. And in employing the “just be positive always” mindset, people tend to use positivity to cover up or silence the human experience. By rejecting certain feelings, people fall into a state of denial and repressed emotions. 

Why is it a must to feel your feelings?

toxic-positivity
GIF from Giphy / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

When you deny or avoid unpleasant emotions, you do not let them go. Instead, you make them bigger. Think of bills. When you avoid opening your bills and instead stash them in the drawer, you are not making them go away. These will just keep piling up until you have a huge amount of debt to pay. (Read: 4 False Beliefs That Hold You Back From Being Your Best Self)

Just like with our emotions, when you avoid feeling them, you tell yourself that you don’t need to pay attention to them. This leaves the emotions unprocessed. Soon, they will become bigger and more significant because you have not taken the necessary steps to let them go.

How to avoid toxic positivity?

toxic-positivity
Photo by Rosie Fraser on Unsplash

In order to avoid being toxic positive to ourselves and the people around us, we must remember that we are all humans, and that all humans are flawed. We get jealous, angry, resentful, and greedy. By pretending that we are upbeat and that we live the “positive vibes all day” life, we deny our negative feelings which will eventually creep up on us during the most inopportune moments.

If we wish to genuinely help someone, we must let them know and feel that we are there for them—good or bad. Swallow your instinctive response to give advice or offer tips unless the person asks for it. Remind them how strong they are and that it’s normal to feel the whole range of emotions they are feeling. Allow them to feel and remind that it’s not their fault that they are feeling these negative emotions. Basically, the best thing to do is anything that validates the person’s feelings and offers comfort and support. (Read: We asked our friends: How Do You Inspire Others?)

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