Toxic positivity: what is it and why do we need to avoid it?

Toxic positivity: what is it and why do we need to avoid it?

Toxic Positivity is that thing we do when we try to make everything ok. It’s when we try to pull someone out of their mental funk by finding a way to spin their pain or problem and detract them by focusing on something good.

So what is it?

It’s saying, ‘don’t worry about it’,  ‘it will be ok’, ‘ let it go’, ‘it could be worse’.. you get the drift.

There is nothing wrong with looking on the bright side and trying to keep your vibration high. Actually, I’m all for it, but when it’s used as a way of avoiding negative situations and dealing with the emotions that are attached to then it is damaging. Toxic positivity tries to sugar coat situations and by doing so creates all sorts of problems. 

We’re coming from a good place but it can do more harm than good. And in the end it’s just a form of rescuing. 

I did a Mental Health First Aid course a few years ago, which I highly recommend and think should be taught in schools. and they spoke about Toxic Positivity there. They didn’t use that exact term, I don’t think it had been termed then, but that is what they meant. And it really resonated with me.

The slippery slope into Toxic Positivity 

When someone is dealing with a difficult situation we often want to tell them everything will be ok. 

We give them scenarios of how things will work out and why they don’t need to worry. 

And that can be valid and helpful BUT you also need to acknowledge the pain, fear and other negative emotions.

Signs of toxic positivity

Toxic positivity can come from within or without. So be careful. It might be your inner dialogue that is toxic and damaging.

  • hiding your feelings
  • not allowing someone to express their negative emotions
  • pretending everything is ok or will be ok
  • minimising a negative situation or experience
  • shaming yourself or others for feeling upset, angry, sad etc
  • you feel uncomfortable when people tell you their problems

toxic positivity is hiding your feelings

Why we need to acknowledge negativity

Pretending everything is or will be ok is harmful for many reasons.

  • If someone is feeling scared, angry or hurt they need to be able to express this. They need to be heard and understood. If they aren’t they can feel like their feelings aren’t valid or that they are wrong. Two things that are not good for anyone.
  • It can also make them more angry and frustrated because they feel like no one understands them and their situation.
  • And if you do it to children it teaches them to ignore their feelings, that bad feelings are bad and that they need to pretend to be ok when they are not. 
  • When you stuff down your feeling you don’t allow them the natural process required to heal. When you are told to not worry about it you stuff it down into your secret hidey-hole and leave it there to rot and fester. 

The only way you can truly release a negative emotion is to process it. And you do that by acknowledging it and feeling it. 

How to avoid Toxic Positivity

Don’t say
  • I know how you feel – unless you have actually experienced the same thing then don’t say you know how they feel
  • everything will be ok
  • look on the bright side
  • all things happen for a reason
  • just let it go

And don’t try to change to subject. Let them upload.

What to say and do
  • listen and give support
  • say – ‘that must be hard’, ‘I’m here for you’, ‘it’s ok to have negative emotions’, ‘you can talk to me’, 
  • ask – ‘How can I help?’, ‘What do you need?’, ‘What can you do?’
  • if they are taking in any way that implies ending their life ask them if they are wanting to do so. This is a hard conversation but statistics show that if you bring up the subject of suicide with someone who is suicidal you greatly reduce the risk that they will do it.  

listen and give support

There is a  place for positivity 

People need a shoulder to cry on. They need to be able to voice their problems and have them validated. 

You may be able to bring some of the more positive and empowering ideas later but when I person is really hurting and in pain, they just need someone to listen to them and to validate their feelings. 

And they need to find a solution if there is one themselves. You can help guide them but don’t rescue them.

Pain is a natural part of life when we face it and work through it we grow and evolve. As hard as it can be to watch another person suffer we need to let them have their process. When we look back we see the lessons and the reasons (most of the time anyway)

Toxic Positivity what is it and how to avoid it

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I’m Selene



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