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What is toxic positivity and how can we avoid it?

What is toxic positivity and how can we avoid it?

“You’ll get over it, just think of happy thoughts.” “Don’t be so negative!” “Failure is not an option for this family.” Perhaps once in your life, you’ve already heard of these statements. They seem pretty normal and one might think that these are words of encouragement, but they’re not. They are statements of toxic positivity.

Photo from The Psychology Group

Toxic positivity is an obsession with positive thinking. It is the belief that people should put a positive spin on all experiences, even those which are tragic.

As a result, this kind of perspective can silence negative emotions and demean grief when someone just wants to be understood. It can also make people feel under pressure to pretend to be happy even when they are facing a lot of struggles.

Here are some typical examples of toxic positivity that you may also have done or experienced:

  • telling a parent whose child has died to be happy since they can have another child again
  • saying that “everything happens for a reason” after a huge loss or catastrophe
  • pushing someone to just look on the positive aspects after they lost their job or business
  • telling someone to get over their grief or suffering and focus on the good things in their life
Photo from ScreenFish

To avoid this, we need to recognize and accept the negative emotions as part of the human experience. For example, in the popular Pixar movie Inside Out, Riley’s feelings shouldn’t just be about Joy. We learn that there is much, much more to being happy than boundless positivity. In fact, when Joy stopped controlling some of her fellow emotions, particularly Sadness, Riley seemed to have achieved a deeper form of happiness.

Now that we already realize the dangers of toxic positivity on our mental health, and of course, on other people, here are some tips from Rachel Goldman Ph.D. from VeryWellMind on how we can develop a healthier, more supportive approach:

Manage your negative emotions, but don’t deny them

Negative emotions can cause stress when unchecked, but they can also provide important information that can lead to beneficial changes in your life.

Be realistic about what you should feel

When you are facing a stressful situation, it’s normal to feel stressed, worried, or even fearful. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Focus on self-care and taking steps that can help improve your situation.

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It’s okay to feel more than one thing. If you are facing a challenge, it’s possible to feel nervous about the future, yet also hopeful that you will succeed. Your emotions are as complex as the situation itself.

Focus on listening to others and showing support

When someone expresses a difficult emotion, don’t shut them down with toxic platitudes. Instead, let them know that what they are feeling is normal and you are there to listen.

Notice how you feel

Following “positive” social media accounts can sometimes serve as a source of inspiration. But, pay attention to how you feel after you view and interact with such content. If you are left with a sense of shame or guilt after seeing “uplifting” posts, it might be due to toxic positivity. In such cases, consider limiting your social media consumption.

So there, next time you are tempted to say “Just look at the brighter side,” you’ll be able to allow the person to feel down for a moment. Because sadness, like any other feeling, is temporary. After that, he/she can rebuild himself again with hope and true positivity.

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