What is Toxic Positivity? Great Lakes Psychology Group
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What is Toxic Positivity?

A man demonstrating toxic positivity by holding up his mouth to form a fake smile. What is toxic positivity?

What is Toxic Positivity?

Toxic positivity is the pressure to maintain a positive outlook in spite of traumatic or tragic events. In many cases, this mindset leads a person to suppress their emotions and avoid seeking support. 

Toxic positivity is seen often in popular culture with slogans like “good vibes only” and a push to consistently maintain a positive mindset above all else. Social media can also make it seem as though people are positive all of the time. Toxic positivity should not be confused with positive thinking, which can be helpful to an extent. Enforcing a positive mindset only denies the full range of human emotions, which are important to experience as well. 

Examples of Toxic Positivity

  • Telling a friend to stay positive when they’re sharing their struggles with you 
  • “It could be worse”
  • Shaming someone for sharing their struggles
  • Suppressing emotions to appear strong or positive
  • “Everything happens for a reason”
  • “You have nothing to complain about compared to other people”

What to Say Instead

  • “I’m here to listen”
  • “I’m so sorry you’re struggling”
  • “How can I help?”
  • Validate their response as normal

Why is Toxic Positivity Harmful?

While a positive mindset can be helpful in many instances, refusing to acknowledge negative emotions in yourself or others can lead to issues. 

Social isolation can be a direct result of toxic positivity. Not allowing yourself or others to express true emotions or concerns discourages intimacy and seeking help. When you’re not able to express yourself around a particular friend or family member, it can feel as though they won’t accept your true self or understand you. 

Shame, whether intentional or not, can also be an effect of toxic positivity. Minimizing a person’s struggles can lead to feelings of embarrassment for opening up in the first place, especially when saying someone’s problems are unimportant in comparison. People often look to others to validate their emotions and denying someone that validation could leave them feeling abnormal or selfish for reaching out. 

How to Avoid Toxic Positivity

The most important thing to do is acknowledge the full range of emotions you and others experience. Whether positive or negative, authentic emotions are normal. Sharing our feelings with others can help us to connect on a deeper level. Acknowledging and accepting your own full range of emotions can also help you better understand yourself. Allowing yourself to experience negative emotions can be a catalyst for making important changes in your life. 

Try setting boundaries with people in your life who don’t validate you when you’re struggling. Talking to a therapist can also be helpful for learning to accept and understand your emotional experiences.

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More about Kaley Barnhill

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Kaley is member of the GLPG marketing team and a contributor to the Current. She has a passion for making mental health care information accessible. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family, friends, and pets, volunteering with animals, reading, and traveling.