There is nothing wrong with having a sunny disposition towards life. It is often an admirable and desirable trait– that despite the cynicism in the world there are still people who are willing to look on the bright side of things. However, positivity must be genuine. Not a forced outlook.
Positivity, for the sake of simplicity and ease, is sometimes watered down to catchy platitudes like “You’ll get over it!” or “Just be positive!” And although your mindset does play a role in how you react to distressing events, you can’t simply wish something into existence. As if all of your problems will disappear if you only think positively.
Toxic positivity can disguise itself as well-meaning comments or suggestions. However, they make you feel like your opinions and feeling are unacknowledged. According to Samara Quintero (LMFT and CHT) and Jamie Long (PsyD) of the Psychology Group of Fort Lauderdale, toxic positivity is an excessive, ineffective, and overgeneralized happy or optimistic state across all situations. It typically results in denial, minimalization, or invalidation of authentic human experiences and emotions. It is masking all of your doubts, fears, and worries with “Everything is okay.” Sometimes, everything is not okay, and that is fine.
Though positive thinking is not a bad thing in it of itself, it can become toxic. Below are five signs of toxic positivity.
- Masking your true feelings.
It’s normal to try to shake off a failure or a setback. However, most of the time, we resort to pretending things are all right even when they are not.
Despite the need to divulge your feelings, there are moments where it may be inappropriate to do so. Hence, occasionally putting your emotions aside to deal with them later is not such a terrible thing, but it can become a problem.
Masking your emotions becomes a problem when it becomes a repeated pattern or you feel ashamed of showing your true feelings. This behavior creates a dissonance between who you are and what you are portraying to the point where it can strain your relationships and make people feel as though they do not know who you are. Making a habit of masking your emotions to the point where it is unconscious can lead you to lose touch with your feelings and possible health issues.
- Brushing off problems rather than facing them.
Another result of toxic positivity is brushing off your problems. For example, you have a deadline soon, and you have not even started the assignment. Instead of working on it, you decide to procrastinate thinking that everything will turn out fine in the end. As a result, the assignment’s quality is poor. Your boss or teacher reprimands you for the quality of your work. To avoid the emotional consequences, you brush off the incident with “It could be worse.”
Yes, it could be worse, but why are you forcing yourself to feel better when you do not. A poor outcome or a setback is frustrating, and you are allowed to feel that way. You are allowed to feel however you feel. Negative feelings like fear and insecurity usually preclude us from acting. But, why not use those feelings as fuel to change. By confronting your fears, you are growing.
- Minimizing other people’s experiences with bumper sticker quotes.
In tough times, people usually try to offer advice or comfort but sometimes, those well-intentioned statements can be harmful. According to Carolyn Karoll, a psychotherapist in Baltimore, Maryland, statements like “just be positive” serve to pressure you to mask your feelings and invalidate your experience. They plant doubt in your mind–making you feel that your emotional response is inadequate or wrong. Unfortunately, these doubts can become internalized and transform themselves into negative self-images of being weak or insufficient.
These phrases usually do not give space for self-compassion, which is so vital in mental health.
- Shaming those who do not have a positive attitude.
I am a skeptic. I entered the skeptic’s club at the tender age of fourteen. As a self-described skeptic, I have often been urged to be more positive and sometimes been shamed for my skepticism. However, there are moments where analysis and foresight are necessary before making a decision. Sometimes jumping into a choice hoping for the best is not the best course of action.
There are some people who lack good faith and are not motivated by goodwill, so it’s important to have a balance. Try to give the benefit of the doubt if deserved, but do not blindly, with rose-colored lenses, approach all things in life.
- Feeling guilty for feeling sad, angry, or disappointed.
A clear sign of toxic positivity is feeling ashamed for feeling negative emotions. I understand that many people prefer to categorize their emotions into negative or positive ones, but personally, I like to call them emotions. Emotions are not just negative or just positive. They are far more complex than that.
If you are going through a tough time, it’s fine to feel angry, frustrated, sad, disappointed, jaded, vexed, disgusted, pissed off, or whatever other emotion. It’s just how you are feeling at the moment. Do not judge yourself too harshly. Instead, learn to manage those feelings so they don’t get the best of you.
There are many different ways to handle toxic positivity, but perhaps the two most important starting points are to notice your emotions and to learn how to manage them. Some ways to get in touch with your emotions are journaling, yoga, meditation, or even talking to a friend. For further assistance and guidance, reach out to a therapist.
Cherry, K., & Goldman, R. (2021, February 1). Why Toxic Positivity Can Be So Harmful. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-toxic-positivity-5093958#signs.
Quintero, S., & Long, J. (2021, March 12). Toxic Positivity: The Dark Side of Positive Vibes. The Psychology Group Fort Lauderdale. https://thepsychologygroup.com/toxic-positivity/.
Raypole, C., & Litner, J. (2020, July 30). It’s Tempting to Mask Your Emotions, but It Won’t Do You (or Anyone Else) Any Favors. healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/hiding-feelings.
Scully , S. M. (2020, July 22). ‘Toxic Positivity’ Is Real — and It’s a Big Problem During the Pandemic. healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/toxic-positivity-during-the-pandemic.
Villines, Z., & Johnson, J. (2021, March 30). Toxic positivity: Definition, risks, how to avoid, and more. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/toxic-positivity.