We’ve all experienced toxic positivity at some point in our lives. You know, when something in your life genuinely sucks but your friend tells you “It could be worse.”
We should cut them a little bit of slack because they’re only trying to help us have a positive outlook. It’s not their fault they’re actually coming across as insensitive and making us feel worse. Or maybe it is?
Toxic positivity is a refusal to acknowledge that some life experiences do not have a bright side. It’s a “good vibes only” approach to life 24/7, 365. Toxic positivity doesn’t leave room for feeling all the emotions of the human experience.
Don’t get us wrong, positivity on it’s own is fine! The dictionary defines positivity as being optimistic.
But toxic positivity is optimism taken to the extreme. Toxic positivity ignores people's feelings, especially their negative emotions. As long as you aren’t a negative nancy for too long, it’s healthy to occasionally feel bad because feeling bad is normal!
Toxic Positivity and Mental Health
Constant positivity is toxic because it negatively impacts our mental health. Life is not sunshine and unicorns constantly, we’re going to experience a range of emotions as human beings. Toxic positivity doesn’t hold any room for negative feelings and that is very emotionally stifling.
Toxic positivity can cause us to:
- Ignore real harm others are doing to us
- Minimize serious losses like the death of a loved
- Isolate for fear of being judged for needing support with our mental health
- Feel guilty when we feel bad
- Miss opportunities for growth by ignoring challenges in our relationships
- Communicate poorly with others by ignoring their emotions or experiences
Sometimes, there just isn’t anything to feel positive about! Forcing ourselves or others to focus on the positive in the face of real trauma often does more harm than good.
A “positive vibes” only attitude can be very useless and hurtful to someone who is really struggling. When your friend gets laid off and isn’t sure how they’re going to pay their bills, reminding your friend to be positive can only do so much. What would be more helpful is offering to connect your friend with the hiring manager that is looking to fill positions.
How to Avoid Toxic Positivity
Whether you’re the positivity pusher or often have positivity pushed on you, there are some things you can do to develop a healthier approach to dealing with emotions:
Remember that feelings aren’t facts, but they are important to feel.
You don’t have to get overly caught up in your feelings (positive or negative) but you should always let yourself feel a wide range of emotions.
Really listen and support the people in your life when the chips are down.
When someone you care about comes to you with a hard situation, think about what will actually be helpful to them instead of offering them an empty platitude.
You can even ask them what would actually be supportive. (Shocker right?) Maybe they just want a shoulder to cry on. Or maybe they want you to help them brainstorm a solution.
Asking people what they need enables you to really show up and support them.
Focus on self-care
When faced with something stressful, be realistic! You probably will eat more sweets, feel a bit scattered, or sleep a bit less. Don’t beat yourself up about that. Focus on really supporting yourself with your favorite self-care practices instead (our CBD can help!).
Be mindful of your social media use
There are so many great social media accounts out there, but it’s important to check-in with yourself about how you feel after viewing an account’s content. If you’re feeling shame or guilt after seeing an “encouraging” post, consider taking a step back from that platform for a bit to check in with yourself and avoid what might be toxic positivity online.