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Toxic Positivity: How Your Words Affect Yourself and Others

 

 

Has anyone ever said to you, “Good vibes only” or “Just think positive”? If so, then you’ve encountered toxic positivity! 

Now, being positive and happy isn’t a bad thing; but it becomes problematic when we use these popular, positive mantras and sayings consistently in response to people’s fears, frustrations, and worries. If your friend confides in you that they’re going through a tough time, such as problems in school, with mental health, or a relationship, and your response is something along the lines of, “Everything will be okay! Just be positive!” this is actually displaying toxic positivity. These displays of toxic positivity are not helpful to you or your friend. It’s also important not to confuse this way of thinking or speaking with optimism, or mask it as such. I’m sorry to say, that’s not optimism; it’s toxic positivity.

You may repeat these mantras in the hopes of making your friend or yourself feel better and help them “look on the brighter side of life,” but toxic positivity acts to dismiss and ignore the real feelings of those who come to you in times of hardship and need. The dismissal of any emotion could possibly create feelings of shame in your friend, and make them feel as though their problems are small and insignificant. Any form of toxic positivity could then lead to your friend choosing not to share their difficulties with you, and instead bottle them up and isolate themselves, possibly causing deeper issues. Eventually, the relationship could fall apart because you weren’t comforting and validating your friend in the way they sought, or not allowing them to express themselves in a safe environment. 

We’re all guilty of having said similar phrases to people in our lives (I know some I used often have been“It’ll be okay” or “Everything happens for a reason”), but sometimes we don’t realize that we’re participating in toxic positivity until it is clearly brought to our attention in some way or another. My sister was the one who first introduced me to this concept, and through my own research I found this article (link attached) very helpful. Check it out! It may help you like it helped me.

 

Here are a few ways to tell if you or someone else is using toxic positivity:

  1. It’s too simple. For example, “It’ll get better.”

  2. It doesn’t allow room for pain. For example, “Happiness is a choice.”

  3. It uses all or nothing language, with words such as “everything,” “nothing,” “everyone,” “no one,” “all the time,” and “none of the time.” For example, “Everything happens for a reason.”

 

It’s important to remember that feelings of pain, worry, anger, sadness, fear, et cetera, are all valid human emotions. Sometimes all your friend wants is someone to listen, empathize, and complain with them. 

Friends and family members can participate in toxic positivity, and sometimes a conversation to correct the behaviour can be difficult. So, if your friend or family member comes to you expressing their need for validation and not positivity, try to listen and empathize. If you're the recipient of toxic positivity from a friend or family member, consider having that conversation with them so that you can express your needs, they can become aware of your needs as well as their own actions, and the relationship can be saved. These conversations are never easy, but they’re always worth it. So let’s stop the show of toxic positivity in our dialogue, and let’s start bringing in validation and hope!

 

See this below list for a few examples on how to turn a toxic phrase into a helpful sentiment:

Toxic Positivity                   Validation & Hope

Just be positive!                    I know there’s a lot that could go wrong, but what do you think could go right?

Good vibes only!                   This is hard, but you’ve done hard things before, and I believe in you.

Stop being so negative!        It’s normal to have some negative feelings in this situation.

Think happy thoughts!          It must be hard to be positive right now. I’m here for you and thinking of you.

Never give up!                      Sometimes giving up is okay. Have you thought about what your ideal outcome is?

Just be happy!                      It’s never fun to feel like that. Is there something we can do today that you’d enjoy?