When is Positivity Toxic?

When is Positivity Toxic?
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We experience toxic positivity when there is pressure to pretend like everything is awesome, even when it’s not. It is known by many names – Pollyanna, rose-colored glasses, over-optimistic, positivity bias, or just “looking on the bright side.” Whatever we call it, the feeling is familiar when something difficult or discouraging happens and someone says, “Just remember, it could always be worse.” Hmph! Thanks for the encouragement, right? It never feels good to hear and can lead to feeling gaslit or invalidated.

It’s Pervasive

Though toxic positivity has always been present in society, it has never been more prevalent than now. Much of social media is filled with the “best” moments from peoples’ lives. We have never worked so hard at acting happier than what we feel. Those many snapshots that supposedly reflect how amazing everyone is feeling? Yup, we can start to feel major FOMO (fear of missing out) when it seems like everyone else somehow has the perfect happy life. Maybe we don’t have to frown in all our photos to make a point, but next time you post a selfie or see others’ highlight reels, remind yourself that all of us experience negative emotions sometimes.

What About Positivity in Therapy?

Sometimes people think of therapy as learning to increase positive feelings and eliminate negative feelings. While therapy can sometimes boost positivity, covering negative emotions up does not make them go away. In fact, we need to allow space for all of our emotions to work together as a team (quick plug for the movie Inside Out). Therapy can be an opportunity to practice feeling and expressing the hard things we’ve been bottling up inside. In fact, this may be exactly what needs to happen in order to find healing!

Ways to Reduce Toxic Positivity

  • Practice compassion for others and yourself.
  • Honor negative feelings – their job is to bring our attention to important things!
  • Think before encouraging someone with positivity. Validation may need to happen first.
  • Allow space for negative emotions before jumping directly to problem solving.

Remember to be patient with yourself!

It takes time and practice to use the full range of your emotions, but it is well worth the work!

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