Toxic positivity is the idea that you need to be positive all the time, and that any negative emotions are bad. It’s often used as a way to ignore or invalidate someone’s feelings, which can be harmful.
Toxic positivity can come in many forms. For example, you might tell someone who’s grieving to “just be positive” or “look on the bright side.” This invalidates their experience and can make them feel worse.
Toxic positivity can also be more subtle. For instance, you might avoid talking about your problems because you don’t want to burden others with your negativity. This can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
While it is great to think more positively and be mindful of your emotions, this can also turn into a toxic habit and cause more harm than good. If you find yourself constantly putting on a happy face, even when you’re feeling down, it might be time to reassess your approach. Here are some things to understand about toxic positivity and what to focus on instead.
What Is Toxic Positivity?
According to an article by the University of Minnesota, toxic positivity was defined as “the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations.” This term was first used in the late 1980s by Dorothy Rowe, a British psychiatrist.
In recent years, there’s been a rise in the use of the term “toxic positivity.” This is likely due to the increased focus on mental health and well-being. With more people talking about their experiences with anxiety and depression, it’s become easier to identify and name harmful coping mechanisms.
What it Can Look Like
Toxic positivity can take many different forms, but the common thread is that it’s an attempt to downplay or ignore negative emotions. This can be done in a few different ways:
- Invalidating someone’s feelings by telling them to “just be positive”
- Pushing people to “look on the bright side”
- Avoiding talking about problems or difficult topics
- Focusing only on the good, while ignoring the bad
- Pretending everything is okay when it’s not
If you find yourself engaging in toxic positivity, it’s important to take a step back and reassess your approach. This doesn’t mean that you need to be negative all the time, but it does mean acknowledging and validate your emotions, even if they’re not happy ones.
Is Toxic Positivity Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation where someone makes another person doubt their own thoughts, feelings, and experiences. In that sense, toxic positivity can be considered a form of gaslighting because it invalidates the individual’s emotions and tells them that they should not feel the way they do.
An example of this is telling someone who’s grieving to “just be positive.” This ignores their feelings and implies that they are wrong for feeling sad or angry. It also makes them feel like they can’t talk openly about their emotions without being judged.
Of course, not all gaslighting is intentional. Many people view toxic positivity as a way to help others, not harm them. But it’s important to be aware of the potential consequences of this behavior and find healthier coping mechanisms that can actually benefit your well-being. At the end of the day, all emotions, good or bad, are valid and deserve to be acknowledged.
What to Do Instead
Instead of using toxic positivity, focus on building resilience. This means developing skills and habits that will help you cope with difficult situations. Some things you can do to build resilience include:
- Identifying your support system — it can be helpful to have someone to talk to when things get tough.
- Finding healthy coping mechanisms — this might include things like exercise, journaling, or meditation.
- Challenging negative thoughts — try to reframe your thinking and look at the situation from a different perspective.
- Practicing self-compassion — be kind to yourself and allow yourself to feel whatever emotions you’re experiencing.
- Making time for yourself — do things that make you happy and help you relax.
- Setting boundaries — know when to say no and put your needs first.
Toxic positivity is a harmful coping mechanism that can make things worse. If you find yourself engaging in toxic positivity, try to focus on building resilience instead. Building resilience is important for everyone, but it’s especially important if you’re dealing with mental health problems or difficult life circumstances.
But What If You Stay Positive in a Negative Situation?
Some of the most popular questions related to toxic positivity are: what if you’re staying positive in a negative situation? Does it mean it’s toxic positivity? Are you supposed to be negative in a negative situation?
The answer is simple: it depends.
If you’re using positivity as a way to cope with difficult emotions or situations, that can be helpful. But if you’re using positivity to ignore or invalidate your feelings, then it can be toxic. It’s possible to stay positive even in difficult situations, but it’s important to acknowledge that the situation is difficult and allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come up.
The key is to acknowledge your feelings while also finding healthy ways to cope with them. You can try to stay positive, but make sure you’re not dismissing or invalidating any of your emotions in the process.
For example, if you’re feeling sad, a helpful response would be: “I’m feeling really sad right now, but I know I’ll be okay in time. In the meantime, I’m going to take a walk or call a friend so that I can feel better.”
This response acknowledges your emotions while also providing yourself with a practical way to cope. It allows you to stay positive, while also giving you the space to process and deal with your emotions.
Ultimately, it’s important to recognize that it’s okay to have negative emotions and that it’s healthy to acknowledge them. This doesn’t mean succumbing to negativity or wallowing in your sadness, but rather finding ways to cope with your emotions in a healthy way.
Sometimes life just happens and it doesn’t matter how positive you try to be, things will still happen. That’s okay. Life is full of hardships and challenges, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find joy and happiness along the way. Don’t let toxic positivity take away your ability to feel all of your emotions. Allow yourself to experience the full range of human emotions and build resilience so you can weather any storm.