What is toxic positivity and why you need to keep it to yourself, or better still drop it as an entirely bad habit?
Toxic positivity is the belief that no matter how dire or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset. It’s a “good vibes only” approach to life. And while there are benefits to being an optimist and engaging in positive thinking, toxic positivity instead rejects difficult emotions in favor of a cheerful, often falsely positive, facade.
We all know that having a positive outlook on life is good for your mental well-being. The problem is that life isn’t always positive. We all deal with painful emotions and experiences. Those emotions, while often unpleasant, are important and need to be felt and dealt with openly and honestly. (Very Well Mind)
When something in your life happens that is bad, for example, if you lost your job, or a relationship break up happens, and someone tells you to “just be positive” or “look on the bright side” that is toxic positivity. Someone may be trying to mean well, even sympathetic, but they can actually be shutting down how you are feeling and trying to make you dismiss those feelings.
Telling someone “everything happens for a reason” or “it was not meant to be” is not comforting or helpful to someone who is experiencing a difficult or traumatic experience, it’s trying to avoid someone’s pain or trying to get them to miminiade that pain or experience. It’s toxic positivity.
Telling someone that “happiness is a choice” or “you need to change your thinking” when they are struggling with their emotions, or telling them to “choose to be happy” is toxic positivity.
Toxic Positivity takes the extreme of thinking positively and forcing people to supress, hide, diminish or pretend that what they are going through isn’t hard and that they are not feeling sad, angry, worried, or stressed.
When someone is going through a difficult time, even if that thing may seem not so bad, to you, looking at their situation, asking them to pretend things are not as bad as they seem, or telling them that they need to choose to be happy or get over it, then you are practicing toxic positivity.
It’s particularly rife in the world of mental health. Usually when someone doesn’t understand the pain or issues someoone with any kind of mental health condition may be dealing with. I have been told countiless times that I just need to “not worry so much” or “think positive” when I am struggling with my anxiety. Because apparently I am supposed to be able to just switch it off to please other people.
It also happens in parenting. I have seen a mum, exhausted and on her knees with tiredness because her baby isn’t sleeping well or her toddler is in a particularly challenging phase, being told “well at least you have a baby or toddler, you should be grateful” or “this too shall pass, don’t wish this time away” because we as mothers are not allowed to feel tired, worried, sad or sometimes just fed up with the hard bits.
It happens in the fertility world too. My last miscarriage, I was told by someone, trying to help “cheer me up” after our loss that “well at least you can still get pregnant” and I have heard other people say the same to others who have suffered a loss. I have also been told, when I was sick as a dog with Hyperemesis Gravidarum that I should be grateful I was pregnant. None of this is helpful, and whilst the intention might be kind, the words and the way they make someone feel are not kind.
I am not saying that it’s wrong to be positive, or to be cheerful, or that soemtines we do need to manage our feelings to be able to process life.
What I am saying is that making people dumb down their emotions and feelings and the pretence that we must always be happy, that we can shut down or shut down our sadness, fears, trauma and even our mental health issues, in order to please other poeple or to not offend other poeple is wrong and it needs to stop.
So if you want to know if you are a practiser of this dreadful habit, then this image below may be helpful.
What you might say, and what is better to say…
Image from Femina
Please don’t use toxic positivity to try and help people. It really doesn’t. If you wonder why someone in your life doesn’t talk to you any more, share how their life is going, or has stopped communicating with you, maybe it’s because you made them a victim of your toxic positivity. Time to think and make a change.