The Effects of Toxic Positivity 

This past year has proven to be very difficult, considering the many COVID-19 restrictions established worldwide. Not only have millions of people lost their jobs, but some have also faced the loss of loved ones due to the deadly virus. I cannot even begin to imagine the pain, sadness, or even anger that many must be feeling as a result. 

While I do think it’s important to keep a positive mindset, the pandemic has made me realize how over-exaggerating optimism is actually causing more harm than good. When we constantly disregard negative emotions and insist on replacing them with positive ones, we are no longer preaching a healthy mindset. Instead, we are promoting toxic positivity. 

What is toxic positivity?

Toxic positivity is the belief that, no matter what happens, we must remain positive and grateful at all times. Although there are certain benefits to thinking positive, keeping an optimistic mindset all the time can actually be psychologically ineffective.

Toxic positivity rejects difficult emotions

Difficult Roads lead to beautiful destinations sign Photo by Hello I'm Nik from Unsplash

When we tell someone to remain positive despite how they feel, we are teaching them to avoid uncomfortable situations. This avoidance mechanism inhibits us from acknowledging our emotions. Instead, we bury the problem deep inside our heads and pretend it doesn’t bother us. But our emotions will catch up with us and, since we never learned how to deal with them, we risk lashing out eventually. In fact, studies have shown that bottling up our emotions may affect our psychological functioning

While there are actual problems that we face daily, some can arise within us if we overindulge in ignoring our negative emotions. Allowing our feelings to build up inside us makes it easier for them to control us. However, when we understand our emotions, we know how to control them. It might be a scary or even painful process but understanding how we feel and why we feel that way gives us deeper insight about ourselves and allows us to grow.

Toxic positivity can push people away

woman walking on a pathway with fall leaves Dmitry Schemelev

Being the person who advocates positivity nonstop won’t necessarily make you the favorite person in the group. A “Stay positive!” approach on life, while well-intentioned, can make others feel like their feelings are only tolerable when they’re good. Furthermore, they might feel you’re being dismissive when they need you and, instead of turning to you for guidance, might decide to suffer in silence. We need to be mindful about how we respond to people when they’re crying for help. Sometimes, all they need is someone to sympathize and vent to, and not give them advice on how to solve the issue. 

Toxic positivity invalidates others’ realities

be kind Photo by Vie Studio from Pexels

Just because you had the emotional or economic capacity to push through a situation quickly does not mean someone else will (or could) do it at the same pace. Life circumstances differ from person to person. We need to acknowledge this before we tell someone to “Look at the bright side.” When somebody is going through continuous difficulties, it may be hard for them to see any bright side. If you cannot help them, try turning them toward someone who could. 

While being optimistic about life and its outcomes is a good way to look at life, excessively promoting positivity can be harmful. The human experience involves hardships, heartbreak, and stress and, while it’s crucial to move on from certain events, it is equally important to process the feelings that stem from them.