October 19, 2023 Angela Human

Positivity Versus Toxic Positivity

The Contrast Between Positivity and Toxic Positivity

You’ve likely encountered the repeated advice that staying positive is essential for our overall well-being.   However, you might also have experienced frustration, anger, or discomfort when positivity is forced upon you, perhaps even subtly implied. Positivity indeed plays a crucial role in our well-being, but it’s essential to ensure that we don’t misuse it to suppress or evade our genuine negative feelings and emotions. When positivity is applied in this way, it can become detrimental to our mental health.

                          But what is “toxic positivity”?

It can be defined as the act of denying or rejecting real stress, negativity, or other undesirable experiences. Distinguishing between “positivity” and “toxic positivity” can sometimes be challenging. For instance, when we share a difficult experience or emotion with someone, and they respond with, “Just focus on the bright side,” it might feel as though they’re belittling or denying our valid negative feelings. Negative emotions often serve as tools to meet essential needs, so brushing them aside without understanding or acknowledging them can be counterproductive. This is why advice from well-meaning friends and family can sometimes come across as toxic – because we don’t feel truly seen or heard. While the intention behind the positive remark is good, it can make us feel worse and more isolated.

Here are a few more examples of toxic positivity:

Original: “I’m having an awfully bad day.” Toxic Response: “But you have so much to be grateful for.”

Original: “I don’t know if I can have a relationship with my aunt. She doesn’t treat me well nor do I get the feeling she respects me.” Toxic Response: “She’s family. You should love her no matter what.”

Original: “This job sucks, I hate it.”

Toxic Response: “You’re lucky you even have a job.”

In these examples, someone is attempting to use positivity to counterbalance the negative feelings being shared, but the recipient is left feeling like their emotions are being downplayed, misunderstood, or invalidated.

Conversely, a friend might respond with, “Hey, it’s okay not to be okay.” This response signifies acceptance and understanding of the negative emotion or experience, as well as displaying compassion.

In summary, toxic positivity can be a delicate balance. The benefits of positivity are undeniable, but it’s easy to inadvertently misapply it. Hopefully, the information here will help you become more aware and discern when a positive mindset can genuinely support your friends, family, and colleagues and when you should be cautious about dismissing their feelings.