Toxic positivity is the flawed belief that people should only feel positive emotions and that just by having a positive attitude one can solve problems.
Toxic positivity scenario
Recently, I spoke with someone who asked me if toxic positivity was a thing. She explained that she experienced something a friend said to her that caused her to feel unheard or invalidated.
Her friend has a habit of dismissing “negative” emotions and overriding them with positive statements. This friend isn’t someone that she feels comfortable opening up to anymore.
The lady described her friend telling her not to feel sad, not to be depressed, to be happy and grateful for what they do have, and for their successes in life. Not at all asking if she’s okay, if she wanted to talk about it, or even just acknowledging the sadness.
When someone is under the pressure of staying positive while going through challenges, it can lead to feeling invalidated, guilt, shame, and prevent them from asking for help.
The lady sharing this with me has experienced multiple challenges and losses over the past few years. Losing a loved one, changing jobs, and ending a marriage.
She has been weighed down with feelings of grief, loss, depression and anxiety due to these things. She had mixed emotions, as well, because life is complicated. Her emotions were valid.
She was taken back by the friend’s comments and telling them how she “should be,” like she was somehow broken or healing wrong. The toxic positivity was harmful.
After we talked about how terrible toxic positivity is, she asked me what she could do about it, if anything could be done about it.
What can be done about toxic positivity?
- Control your own reaction to the other person. You can’t change their behavior, but you can control your reaction. Emotion regulation skills are ways to regulate your emotions. This includes practicing acceptance of your emotions and trying to understand them.
How you can reframe toxic positivity:
Instead of: “Look at the bright side!”
Try: “Coping with pain means that I’m not storing it.”
Instead of: “Failure is not an option.”
Try: “Trial and error is a part of growth.”
Instead of: “Others have it worse.”
Try: “All humans experience pain.”
Instead of: “Good vibes only!”
Try: “It’s normal to not always have a positive reaction.”
- Know that your emotions surrounding what you’ve been through are valid.
- Set boundaries. Do you need to create more space between you and the other person? Do you need to refrain from disclosing about certain areas of your life?
- This isn’t the best option, but if you feel comfortable and feel that it will be helpful, try talking with the person about what they said to you. How this goes will likely depend on your relationship with them and the type of person that they are. Remember, that they hold the belief that they can problem solve solely by having a positive attitude.
- Your growth will look different from theirs. You can face your “negative” emotions and learn how to regulate them, whereas, the friend probably doesn’t have this coping skillset.