Toxic Positivity: The Dark Side of Positivity

Published January 8th, 2022 - 03:57 GMT
Toxic Positivity: The Dark Side of Positivity
Toxic positivity tends to be subtle and go unnoticed, and many do not even know they are practicing it. (shutterstock)

“Be grateful, you have so much!”
“Stay positive and just smile”

Most of us have either heard similar phrases firsthand, read it online, or even worse said it to someone ourselves. Forcing positivity down someone’s throat is not a healthy approach and can instead make them feel invalidated. This comes to show that not all forms of positivity are healthy and that some can in fact be quite toxic. 

Toxic positivity takes place when someone dismisses another person’s “negative” feelings and tries to give false reassurance rather than empathize and understand. What toxic positivity does is label emotions as either good or bad, and constantly emphasize the need to be positive and happy.

While some might be trying to help others feel positive, what they fail to see is that toxic positivity does more harm than good. Because in reality when you tell someone to be happy or positive, what you are really telling them is that their feelings and struggles are invalid. 

- It makes people believe that they do not have the right to feel what they are feeling.
- It gives a sense of shame and guilt for not being able to always be positive. As if just feeling their emotions is wrong. 
- It can push people to start dismissing their own feelings and not deal with their pain. This kind of behavior will soon backfire and prevent people from growing through adversity. 

The overused and shallow approach of asking people to continuously smile and be positive can significantly impact a person’s wellbeing, especially if they are already going through a difficult time.

Not only that, but as many turn to social media to showcase a filtered version of their lives, some are left feeling unfulfilled and empty. And with so many people trying to show how perfect and fabulous their lives are, so many things get lost in translation and soon enough having a “perfect” life becomes the next cool trend.

Do not get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing shameful about wanting to share some amazing and cool content, but the downside here is that some people are left feeling ashamed and guilty for not riding the “perfect” life tide.

While some might mean no harm with it, it can lead to toxic positivity and even send an underlying message that everyone should be happy on social media. On the other side of the spectrum, there are the motivational pages that had flood the internet more than usual during the pandemic. And while it might have been helpful for some, sometimes reading a motivational quote about being grateful in times of anxiety and distress can be dismissive and toxic.

Having a positive outlook and being optimistic is not crime, but the idea here is not to force positivity on people. Every feeling and emotion is valid, and each one of us has the right to feel their feelings and sit with them. Instead of trying to force people to look at the bright side, try to do one of the following: 

- Understand that each person is entitled to feel what they want to feel
- There is no one right way to do things, and what you might perceive as a silly unimportant issue might cause severe distress for someone else
- Instead of opting for toxic statements like “happiness is a choice” and “things could be worse,” try to be supportive, empathetic and offer a helping hand
- Stop denying negative emotions and instead just allow yourself to feel things
- It’s okay not be okay all the time, we all go through difficult times

Toxic positivity tends to be subtle and go unnoticed, and many do not even know they are practicing it. The reality is that chances are people who use toxic positivity aren’t even aware of how toxic it can be.

Therefore, it is important to speak about it, and point it out when possible. Paying attention to how we react to things and learning how to notice toxic statements can help you feel the entire spectrum of your emotions, as well as offer more genuine support to those around you. 

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