Toxic Positivity is the belief that no matter how bad or how difficult a situation is, you must maintain a constant positive mindset. It’s a state of “positive vibes only” and negativity needs to be shown the door.
Having a positive outlook on life and being an optimist can be good thing, but it’s when you’re turning a negative into a false positive can be harmful to your mental health.
Life is all about balance. We need to embrace the positive but also know there are times when life isn’t so peachy. So, let’s learn about the traps of toxic positivity and discuss healthier ways to keep an optimistic outlook without dismissing darker emotions.
What exactly is toxic positivity?!
Toxic positivity is the idea that positive thinking should always be favoured over negative emotions. It’s an active attempt to ignore or push aside any less-than-happy thoughts or feelings like anger, sadness or frustration that may appear.
Sounds good right?! A constant happy outlook to life! Not quite. Toxic positivity fails to consider life’s ups and often downs. There’s a broad spectrum of feelings and emotions to be had. Slapping a ‘positive band-aid’ across every feeling just isn’t possible or realistic. It oversimplifies situations — emphasised by the premise that positivity can fix anything that’s wrong in one’s life — and in doing so, it can minimise a person’s very real, painful emotions.
Isn’t toxic positivity just being optimistic?!
Toxic positivity is different from optimism, which is the practice of wishing for a positive outcome while having full awareness that it may not happen. While toxic positivity denies dark emotions and fosters forced optimism, hopeful optimism can help us face challenges and tackle new opportunities, thus encouraging us to grow and strive for a better future and to be a better person.
You can be a realist while being an optimist. You can process and address difficult feelings and still maintain a generally hopeful outlook. You know it’s not all rose coloured glasses.
Why is toxic positivity harmful?
Toxic positivity can actually harm people who are going through difficult times. Rather than being able to share genuine human emotions and gain unconditional support, people find their feelings dismissed, ignored, or outright invalidated, which is damaging to your mental health.
- It dismisses trauma and pain – discussing trauma or pain is negative and that just won’t fly with someone who is constantly oozing positivity. You might hear “just get over it”, “find the positive” or “let it go”. These sayings can still be harmful even if they’re said with good intentions. When you feel pressure to put on a happy face and don’t acknowledge or process grief, pain, and trauma, you suppress difficult feelings, which can make things worse
- It can cause guilt – Not feeling positive and being around toxic positivity can send a message that if you aren’t finding a way to feel positive, even in the face of tragedy, that you are doing something wrong.
- It Invalidates Your Reality – People with a toxic positivity mindset will often minimise others’ painful emotions and gaslight their peers for not being positive and upbeat enough. If you’re on the receiving end of this, you might question whether your experience or feelings are valid. You may even wonder if things really are that bad or if you’re making it worse in your head than it really is. But this line of thought can be especially dangerous when you’re in an unhealthy or abusive relationship. For example, a person experiencing domestic violence may blame themselves for not trying hard enough to make their partner happy, when in reality, it’s not their fault.
- It doesn’t allow for growth – Toxic positivity can impede growth as it stops us from facing challenging situations and feelings that help us grow. A toxic positivity mindset often relies on magical thinking — the belief that everything will be TOTALLY FINE or the universe will save you.
What can you do?!
If you feel you might be the toxic one, don’t be alarmed! We’ve been conditioned through social media over the years to always be happy and to live a perfect life. Hello, you’re human and it’s impossible to be perfect and always happy! Here’s a few tips to help…
- Instead of running from your negative feelings, sit with them and notice them without judgment. It’s totally normal!
- Meditate – meditation can help quiet your mind. Slowing down and being in the now can help with your mind.
- Be realistic about what you should feel – When you are facing a stressful situation, it’s normal to feel stressed, worried, or even fearful. Don’t expect too much from yourself. Focus on self-care and taking steps that can help improve your situation.
If you have a toxic positive person in your family or friend circle, these are some tips to help you with your mental health…
- Set boundaries – to protect your mental health, set boundaries or limit time with friends and family who spew toxic positivity. If you still feel lonely and unhappy when you see them even in small amounts, you may want to steer clear of them altogether.
- Find your people – Invest in friends who will validate your experience and stand by you when you’re feeling down, rather than blame or judge you. Finding unconditional love and support in relationships will help you through those hard times.
The past couple of years have been difficult on all of us due to the pandemic and it’s important to know you are not alone! The constant state of bleh has been described as languishing and being overly positive during this to try and get through it isn’t going to help you or others.
Remember it’s ok not to be ok! If you do feel like you need help, please reach out to your GP or the below.
Lifeline: 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636 or beyondblue.org.au
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800 or kidshelpline.com.au
Headspace: 1800 650 890 or headspace.org.au
Are you anxious? Take the Beyond Blue quiz to see how you’re tracking and whether you could benefit from support