3 Signs of Toxic Positivity & Why It's Okay To Not Be Okay
Updated: Jan 11
We all have that friend, colleague, and even mentor who is firm on only having “positive vibes". You may look at them and think, it is so fascinating how they only keep high vibrations but wonder how that's actually possible. What if we told you that it is not only impossible but unhealthy to do so.
Now, being positive is not a bad thing, but it can be portrayed and practiced in a toxic way. Toxic positivity is the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations. If you're a bit confused at why this could be bad instead of rainbows and butterflies, just stick with us.
Today, we're diving into the three major signs of toxic positivity and how you can change your positive (yet toxic) thoughts, into healthy ones.
You Mask Negative Feelings
Masking how you feel about negative emotion is an internalized trait of toxic positivity. Suppressing emotions is not only bad for your mental health, but it can also be overwhelming. This can increase stress on the physical body and also lead to depression. With a lack of awareness and understanding, over time your negative emotions start to build up and overflow rather than come and go.
The “positive vibes" trend forces us to believe that if we push back our emotions, by forgetting about them and keeping busy, we will achieve the “out of sight out of mind” concept of happiness. In reality, you have to allow yourself to feel those emotions and let them flow through your mind and body.
You Force Positivity All Day, Everyday
Don’t get us wrong, no one likes a Debbie-downer, but usually, all Debbie wants is someone to understand or at least listen to her problems. It is mainstream to think that positivity is a constant state, requires you to always be grateful, and allows you to gush about every event in a positive light. While in moderation, all of those practices can help remind you to tap into joy, it is not sustainable.
If you catch yourself, or others, making every second a magical experience, there may be some denial and toxic positivity there. Subjectively bad things will happen, and that's okay. Not every uncomfortable situation, failed test, low performing project, or mishap, has to be a "blessing in disguise" right then and there. You are allowed to be angry, upset, sad, and disappointed. It is how you handle your negative emotions by being patient with them, and how you come to see the situation after, that matters most.
Minimizing Other People's Negative Feelings
The last piece of this toxic positivity puzzle is how you treat others. While it's good to lift others up when they are feeling down, you have to be careful about spewing toxic positivity to them, as well. If a friend or colleague confides in you about negative emotions they are experiencing, allow them to feel it.
Sometimes we just need to vent out all of the negativity to find the light at the end of the tunnel. Minimizing how people feel by telling them phrases like "look on the bright side", may not be what they need at that very moment. This also indicates a lack of tolerance for negative emotions from yourself.
If you can't handle bad feelings in your own life, you may put others through the same toxic thought patterns when it comes to their emotions.
How You Can Practice Healthy Positivity:
Okay now that we know what to look for, how do we fix it? Here are a few examples of how you can stop toxic positivity thought patterns and learn to validate your feelings instead of suppressing them (you can even say these to yourself):
Toxic: "Positive vibes only!" | Say this instead:
Validating: "It is okay to feel what you feel. Your feelings are valid and I am here to listen."
Toxic: “Everything happens for a reason.” | Say this instead:
Validating: "Sometimes life hands you lemons, but you can make lemonade. You don’t have to make it by yourself, I'm here to help. How can I support you during this tough time?"
Toxic: "Look at the bright side." | Say this instead:
Validating: “I see you, I hear you, and I am with you."
Toxic: "Think happy thoughts.” | Say this instead:
Validating: "I know this situation is tough and I am here to remind you of what you do have going for you."
Toxic: "It could be worse." | Say this instead:
Validating: "Sometimes in life, we experience bad things, and that is 100% okay.”
Toxic: "Don’t worry about it.“ | Say this instead:
Validating: "What can I do to make this less stressful for you and take your mind off it?”
We have all been on both sides of the toxicity, so let's put an end to forced positivity and start expressing real positivity. During a time where it can be easy to ride the faux positivity train, it is important to take a step back and analyze where you and others can improve.