What Is Toxic Positivity? Why It’s Bad and What to Do About It!
When I first heard the phrase “toxic positivity”, I wasn’t sure what it was. Once I did some further research, it made complete sense and explained why people that were always super positive could be quite annoying!
So in this article, you’ll learn what Toxic Positivity is. I’ll cover its common signs, so you’ll know when someone else is doing it, and to stop yourself from being a toxic positive person too.
I’ll then cover 4 ways to deal with any toxic positivity within yourself. These will help you feel more comfortable with how you feel, be more authentic and help you empathise with other people more.
I’ll also cover 2 ways to prevent yourself from accidentally displaying toxic positivity when interacting with other people. If you’ve ever wondered why you feel uncomfortable around super positive people, then this blog post will explain why.
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What is Toxic Positivity?
Toxic Positivity is a mindset or belief that no matter how bad something is, you should always maintain a positive attitude. It’s to never ever be negative!
Perhaps you know someone like that? A person who is always super positive and is never negative about anything!
The problem is that life happens, stuff happens, and whilst a lot of it is good, some of it can be terrible or difficult.
Examples include losing your job, splitting up from a relationship or getting a chronic health condition. These things can and do happen, and can be very emotional and challenging to deal with.
Toxic positivity is also being excessively positive to a point where it is not useful or helpful. It’s inauthentic because you’re hiding your real self behind this super positive facade. You’re also hiding your true feelings as well.
Nowadays, people relate and connect far better with people that are authentic and can be themselves. It helps build trust and rapport.
The Signs of Toxic Positivity
A key sign is masking or hiding your true feelings. This is suppressing your feelings and keeping them inside. And that’s bad for you mentally, emotionally, and physically.
It’s also brushing off problems rather than facing up to them. Problems rarely go away when you ignore them. They usually get worse!
An example is living beyond your means by purchasing things on a credit card without even considering how you might pay those back in the future.
People often brush off health problems, delaying visits to the doctor and getting appropriate medical attention. And if the health condition gets worse over time, it’s going to be harder to deal with when you do face up to it and take action.
Another one is feeling guilty for what you are currently feeling, or going through. As you’re normally super positive, you feel guilty when you say negative things about how you’re feeling to other people. You feel that you’re upsetting them or making their life more difficult.
Toxic Positivity also includes minimizing other people’s feelings because you can’t deal with them. When you find it hard to feel what the other person is going through, you minimize it instead by saying things like “it’s not that bad”.
When you say phrases like this, you miss out on the opportunity to really connect with that person.
It can be criticizing others for being negative. Now we know some people are always negative, so this doesn’t apply to them. However, if someone is going through a hard time, and they seem more negative than usual, then let them express what they need to say. The worst thing you can say is “don’t be so negative!”
Another sign of toxic positivity is offering reassurance, instead of listening to and validating their emotional experience. Rather than being there for them and understanding what they’re going through, you immediately offer reassurance by saying things like “it’ll be all right”, or “you’ll get over it”.
Why Is Toxic Positivity Bad for You?
Being positive about life is a wonderful thing, and that’s going to help you become more successful and happy. But ignoring serious problems and hoping they will go away is not!
Think of someone you know that spends all their money right now. A person who is not thinking ahead to the future and retirement. They say things like, “don’t worry, be happy”, or “live in the present”.
What this person is actually doing is ignoring potential problems down the road. Problems that could leave you broke and struggling in a few years’ time. So it’s important to be positive, but also realistic and to think about the future consequences of the actions you take (or don’t take) right now.
Toxic positivity is also bad, as it causes you to suppress emotions. You hide or deny feelings and push them down. However, when you push down feelings, your subconscious mind has a habit of bringing them up again, often at inappropriate or even embarrassing times. A good example of this is a panic attack.
Pushing down feelings also creates more repetitive thoughts and negative feelings as your subconscious mind tries to remind you of something that you haven’t yet dealt with.
You might also find yourself experiencing similar situations in the future. Ones that bring similar feelings to the ones you’re trying to hold inside.
Toxic positivity can lead to isolation. You go out less. You interact less with other people, because you have a stigma about being negative and don’t want other people to see that.
It can also prevent you from seeking help, whether it’s from a friend or more professional help. You don’t believe you need help, because you’re only thinking about the positive side of things.
It can affect your communication and relationships, because you’re not expressing how you really feel. And this can create resentment and misunderstandings.
It lowers your self-esteem because you overestimate your ability to cope or deal with certain situations or tasks. That leads to disappointment and frustration when the task takes longer or is much harder than you thought.
This can lead to failure and feeling like a failure. But you’re not a failure, you’re simply a normal person that is attempting to deal with something that is challenging right now.
When you believe you’re super positive and superhuman and then you struggle to get through a challenging time, you’ll feel much worse than someone that has a normal and realistic view of this challenging situation.
It’s also a problem because it denies that grief (whether experienced by you or someone else) takes time to heal.
If others tell you to move on, be happy and just get over it, then it can feel like they don’t care. It gives the impression that your loss is unimportant to them.
And if you say words to deny or minimise the feelings of grief to others, then it can seem like you don’t care or understand what they’re going through.
So the grieving process takes some time and needs to be experienced and gone through naturally.
Finally, you can become a “fair weather” friend. This is being there for your friends in the good times, but not in the bad times.
You’ll have far deeper and more meaningful friendships when you can be there for them in the bad or difficult times as well as in the good times. And it will make you a better and stronger person too. A person with greater empathy and understanding.
How to Deal with Toxic Positivity in Yourself
I’m now going to cover some ways to help you deal with any toxic positivity within yourself. I’ll then reveal a couple of ways to prevent you from becoming that annoying toxic positivity person when dealing with other people.
1. Feel the Negative Emotions
As mentioned earlier, one problem with toxic positivity is that it causes you to suppress how you really feel.
Instead, take some time to really feel the emotions, to sit with them, experience and acknowledge them, and notice where they are in your body.
It can help to name the feelings and say them out loud! For example, “I feel sad right now” or “I feel angry” or “I feel resentful”. If saying the feeling out loud is not practical, then writing them down can be an effective alternative.
The key is to get them out of your head and to put these feelings into words, whether verbally or in writing. This will reduce the intensity of those feelings.
It will give you a different perspective and meaning on those feelings and the experience behind them. This also puts the feelings “out there” rather than “within you”.
So this is a method to express and release those negative feelings.
2. Watch What Others Say to You
Look out for these really simple and almost meaningless positive phrases that seem like cliches. For example “don’t worry, be happy”. I’ll cover many more of these toxic positivity phrases later in this article, so keep reading!
Once you notice these common meaningless and seemingly positive phrases, you’ll find it easy to ignore them, to filter them out, and prevent them from affecting you.
These toxic positivity phrases are also very common on social media, so watch out for them!
3. Use Social Media Wisely
I view social media is the opposite of the news. The news is predominately negative, whilst social media is all about the good and fun stuff that is happening in people’s lives.
This can lead you to feeling that you’re missing out. That your life is not as fun and exciting as other peoples. It might also make you feel a little lonely.
When scrolling through social media feeds, notice how your body responds to each post. Notice the posts that feel good within you and those that don’t.
So if scrolling through social media feeds leaves you feeling empty, or feeling like I’m missing out on life, then limit the time you spend on social media.
Too much time on social media can create unrealistic expectations as to what is possible for you. It can cause you to strive to become someone you’re not.
And social media has lots of these very simple, meaningless, toxic positive phrases that should make you feel better, but often don’t!
You may feel overwhelmed, exhausted, or even sad. So it’s important to give yourself permission to have a break and do something that makes you feel better. And to do that without feeling guilty! That’s super important.
4. Be Realistic About What Is Possible for You
Focus on self-care, getting lots of rest and relaxation. Do things that are fun and spend time on your hobbies. Also, take small and consistent steps to improve your situation over time.
Realize that your productivity may be lower and that’s OK. Just focus on doing the best you can right now.
As I write this, we’re in another COVID-19 lockdown here in Sydney. So I’m feeling a little flat, as I can’t do all the things I want to do at the moment. And my productivity has taken a hit during this time as well.
Now, a toxic positive person would probably say something like “make the most of the lockdown and use this time to build your online business or side hustle.” Or “Do all those things you’ve been meaning to do. Get them done now, so you can reap the benefits when the lockdown is over”.
But the reality is it life is very different during a lockdown. And it’s important to be honest with how you feel inside and look after your physical, mental and emotional health too.
So, it’s not always possible to easily take advantage of opportunities to make something happen. Sometimes it’s better to accept what is and go with it to the best of your ability.
Also, be aware that you may be going through a grieving process right now. Whilst it may not be the loss of a loved one, many major life events create feelings of loss.
For instance, losing a job that you really enjoyed. You may grieve the loss of work colleagues or the enjoyment of the work.
Same with a relationship breakup. There is the loss of not seeing that person anymore and a feeling that life isn’t quite the same as before.
So it’s important to know that you could be going through a grieving process, without even knowing it! Well, you do now that you’ve read this article!
So this is yet another reason to be realistic about what’s possible for you right now.
How to Avoid Toxic Positivity When with Other People
I’m now going to cover two ways to help you avoid toxic positivity when dealing with other people.
1. Watch What You Say to Others
I explained earlier how you can be on the receiving end of these simple, meaningless and toxic positive phrases.
I will now cover some of the really common toxic positive phrases and provide you with more useful and helpful alternatives.
|Toxic Phrase||Better Alternative|
|Everything happens for a reason||Things happen in life that seem unfair or difficult. How can I help you get through this?|
|Don’t worry, be happy||I see that you feel worried. Is there anything I can do to help?|
|Don’t think about it, just stay positive||Tell me what you’re going through. I’m here for you.|
|Happiness is a choice||It’s okay to feel what you’re feeling right now.|
|It could be worse||I can see you’re going through a tough time. Anything I can do to help?|
|Failure is not an option||Failing is part of life. It helps you learn, grow and succeed.|
|Everything will work out in the end||This is really hard, and it seems like there is no way out and I’m here for you.|
|If I can do it, so can you||Everyone has different abilities, skills, knowledge and that’s okay.|
|Don’t be so negative||I guess it’s hard for you right now. Can I help in any way?|
|Always look on the bright side!||I realise it’s hard to see the good in this situation right now and that’s okay.|
|You should smile more||How are things with you right now?|
The people you interact with will really benefit from these more helpful phrases and you’ll feel better as well. So I encourage you to use these alternative phrases and notice what happens!
2. Listen Listen Listen
What the other person really wants is to be heard, understood and have the opportunity to express their feelings.
They want to feel that their feelings are okay, normal, valid and part of being human! What you don’t want to do is discount them by saying things like “it will get better soon”.
Instead, really be there for them. The most effective way to do that is simply to listen and get a sense of their world. To do this requires the skill of active listening. This is concentrating fully on what they’re saying, doing your best to understand it, and then summarising this back to them.
This has two benefits. Firstly, it helps the other person realize that you understand them. As you paraphrase your understanding back to them, the other person can nod in agreement or provide extra information or clarification.
Secondly, as you’re listening actively, the voice in your head might scream out a toxic phrase and encourage you to say that. Resist that at all costs! Bite your tongue if you have to!
You want to avoid offering any opinions or advice, unless the other person requests this. Your best way to help is to listen and understand what they’re going through and give them a chance to really express it. This will give the other person the benefit of expressing and releasing the negative emotions, in much the same way as speaking the emotions out loud or writing them down.
So now you understand what toxic positivity is, the reasons why it’s not good for you and the problems it can cause to you and other people. You now have some ways to deal with it within yourself and also to help other people. And by applying this, you’ll feel better emotionally and become a better and more understanding friend. You’ll also let the real authentic you stand out and shine!
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Being positive is not the answer. having positive thoughts does not suffice. Jim jetton