We may have said something like this, especially when we are going through difficult moments like everybody else or someone being through a difficult situation that we don’t know what to say. The first time I heard toxic positivity I was kind of reluctant to understand the possibility of something like that. How a good intentioned comment to cheer up could not be the most helpful thing after all? I think we all have heard comments like that before: “everything is going to be fine”, “think positive” or “it’s nothing”.
“Toxic Positivity ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations. The process of toxic positivity results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience” (Quintero and Long, 2019). To avoid this we need to be aware of how we are denying the challenges and difficulties that a person could have because of a situation. It’s really easy to fall for it, sometimes we are just not aware of how challenging could be for anyone that doesn’t have the same resources that we have; in terms of support, work flexibility, income, etc. Also, making these comments is a way to tell indirectly how they should be feeling about the situation.
Feeling sad, anxious or scared about an experience that is hard or difficult to handle is completely normal. One of my professors once told me, “Emotions are like a bicycle. How are you supposed to learn to manage them if we are not having our training wheels?”. Dr. Allison (2020) described: “ toxic positivity is oversimplified, shaming, and incredibly isolating.” Which is sending the wrong message to our friends or loved ones of being inadequate or overreacting.
How can we know we are being positively toxic?
If you catch yourself hiding how you feel about a situation, worrying about how others might react or “to not bother”.
Being dismissive of your own emotions, pretending it doesn’t matter and not giving importance to them.
Feeling guilty because of how you feel, keeping a mindset of “we shouldn’t feel a certain way”.
Minimizing other people’s feelings when they share something with you (for example: “everything it’s going to be okay”).
Shaming others for feeling a certain way (for example: “I don’t see a reason why you feel like that”).
Pushing someone to feel different (for example: “cheer up!”)
This doesn’t mean that we will go to the other extreme to agree on everything, it means that we will be able to recognize how others or ourselves feel and allow it. That’s why our best ally is validation, defining it as: “Doesn’t mean agreeing or approving. Is the recognition and acceptance of another person’s thoughts,feelings, sensations, and behaviors as understandable” (Hall, 2012). Which means we allow the other person or ourselves to feel and recognize that if someone is going through a situation like that it’s understandable to feel sad, upset, tired, etc. Of course, we support the best we can and it’s necessary to recognize how prepared or comfortable we are to provide that support. In the process of being supportive we need to be open to listen and understand what the other person is going through. Some examples suggested by Tanglaw Mental Health (2020), are comments that we can modify to make them supportive and not positive toxic:
“Everything happens for a reason” vs “It’s okay to feel bad sometimes”
“It could be worse” vs “sometimes we experience bad things, how can I help you?”
“Always look at the bright side!” vs “Can I help you in some way?” or “It’s difficult to see the good on this right now, I’m here for you”.
On the other hand we also need to be aware of when we need support as well and be able to ask for help from someone you trust and feel comfortable. When it’s in our case, give yourself the opportunity to understand what it’s being uncomfortable and why. If it’s difficult for you, ask yourself about what you will say to a friend that is through a similar situation. Emotions can be difficult to understand but not because we experience them means we are going to get stuck on them, it means we can be able to understand and recognize what we are able to do to manage the situations in the present or how we can build a plan. Let’s ask for support and provide support to others in a compassionate way.
Allison, A. (2020). Toxic Positivity: The Harmful Habit to Stop Immediately. Retrieved from: https://drallisonanswers.com/happiness/toxic-positivity/.
Quintero, S. and Long, J. (2019). Toxic Positivity: The Dark Side of Positive Vibes. Retrieved from: https://thepsychologygroup.com/toxic-positivity-the-dark-side-of-positiv….
Gross, J.J., & Levenson, R.W. (1997) Hiding feelings: The acute effects of inhibiting negative and positive emotion. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 107(1), 95-103.
Hall, K. (2012). Understanding Validation: A Way to Communicate Acceptance. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pieces-mind/201204/understanding….
Long, J. (2017). What is Invalidation? 5 Things You Shouldn’t Say. Retrieved form: https://drjamielong.com/validation-5-things-not-to-say/.
Tanglaw Mental Health. (2020). Toxic Positivity. Retrieved from: https://ph.linkedin.com/company/tanglawmentalhealth?trk=organization-upd….