What Is Toxic Positivity and How to Deal with It
We’ve all heard of “positive thinking.” The philosophy goes that if we think happy thoughts, our lives will be more satisfied. While there is some truth to this, overly positive thinking can have the opposite effect, called toxic positivity.
What Is Toxic Positivity?
Toxic positivity is a concept that people should always retain a cheerful outlook on life no matter how horrible a situation. It’s a way of life-based on sending out only positive energy. Being an optimist and indulging in positive thinking has its advantages, but poisonous positivity, on the other hand, rejects uncomfortable feelings in favor of an artificially cheerful exterior.
Being optimistic about life is good for your mental health, as we all know. However, life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. All of us have experienced complicated feelings and situations in our lives. As unpleasant as these feelings may be, they must be acknowledged and dealt with openly and honestly. It is an excessive form of positive thinking. In this mentality, not only does optimism play a key role, but it also suppresses and denies any evidence of human feelings that aren’t solely pleasant or positive.
Toxic positivity can play out in several ways, such as the idea that everyone is supposed to “smile more.” A smile can be a powerful gesture that makes others feel good. But telling people they need to look happier, especially when there’s no context given, comes off as insensitive. What if someone has anxiety and it’s difficult for them to smile? Or what if they’re having a bad day and don’t feel like putting on a happy face? A smile is just that: a smile. It doesn’t carry the weight of someone’s entire mood on its shoulders. And the belief that “all negativity is bad.” While it may seem challenging, learning to deal with difficult emotions in healthy ways is an essential part of growing as a person. If you refuse to engage with your feelings, you may end up bottling them up and letting them fester into something much worse.
Toxic positivity often comes from a good place. It’s undoubtedly better to think positively than negatively. But there is a difference between thinking optimistically and denying the existence of all pain except for the positive things you experience.
Why Is It Toxic and Harmful?
Toxic positivity can be harmful on several different levels.
First, it’s isolating. When you’re the only one allowed to complain or express negative feelings, your social circle becomes smaller and smaller until eventually, you may find yourself all alone. Not only does this make people feel like they need to hide their struggles, but it also means that they don’t have people to rely on when times are tough.
Second, it can prevent people from getting the help they need. When bad things happen, it’s normal to avoid thinking about them or talking about them. But bottling up your feelings only makes you more likely to develop mental health problems down the line.
Finally, it can prevent people from opening up to one another. When you deny the existence of other people’s pain, they may begin to feel like their emotions are unworthy of being expressed. This can lead to feelings of guilt and shame, making it even more difficult for them to reach out when they need help most.
How to Avoid Toxic Positivity in Your Life?
The best way to avoid toxic positivity is by being an active listener. When someone tells you about a challenging situation they’re going through, don’t try to fix it for them or tell them how they should think about it. Instead, ask them what they need from you and if there’s anything you can do to help. If the answer is no, let them know you’re willing to listen whenever they need someone to talk to. Then, be there for them.
When someone comes to you with a problem, please don’t see it as an opportunity to one-up them or compliment yourself on your struggles. Validate their feelings and emotions by letting them know that you understand how they feel, even if you haven’t been through the same thing. If they’re going through a hard time, don’t tell them to “stay positive” or try to cheer them up with hollow compliments. Instead, remind them that their feelings are valid no matter how dark or heavy they may be, and help them find healthy coping methods when things get tough.
It’s also important to remember that negative emotions are a normal part of life and that it’s okay to feel bad sometimes. While positivity is undoubtedly better than negativity, feeling good can be just as dangerous as feeling bad all of the time. Sometimes, trying to suppress your feelings only makes them stronger.
If you feel like the dark times are becoming overwhelming, consider reaching out to a therapist. Therapy can help people process their thoughts and emotions in healthy ways, which is often necessary for avoiding toxic positivity.
Toxic positivity is one of the most harmful manifestations of society’s obsession with positivity. Learning how to deal with difficult emotions healthily is an essential part of growing as a person, and toxic positivity often stops people from getting the emotional support they need. To avoid being sucked into this vortex of helplessness, remember that it’s okay to feel bad sometimes. Negative feelings are a normal part of life, and there’s nothing wrong with having them. When you experience a complex emotion, don’t push it away—acknowledge it, accept it, and work through it. You will come out stronger on the other side.