At a glance: Does not being Toxic Positive mean you must never have a positive outlook and be a pessimist? Absolutely not. This article explains what toxic positivity is and why it is bad for you. It also provides a few ways to prevent positivity from becoming toxic.
The 20th century has seen the most change in various aspects such as medicine, technology, politics, education, food, cities, villages, and many more. Though changes are always geared towards more comfort to humankind, it is undeniable that some changes have led us to an unhealthy lifestyle, causing physical and mental stress. A few are unmindful eating, less physical activity, lack of gratitude, grinding rat race, gruelling work hours, FOMO, social media distraction, etc.
If you do not know how to destress yourself, you will be looking for someone to help you. Thus sprung, a lot of positivity preachers who affirm positive vibes can wipe out all things wrong with your life. However, while being an optimist and having a positive outlook does help you face your struggles with increased vigour, an overdose of it may turn toxic to you and others around.
When does positive thinking become toxic?
Positive thinking can become toxic when it ignores or denies negative experiences, emotions, or realities and becomes an unhealthy way of coping with them.
This can result in a distorted view of the world, where negative experiences are not processed or dealt with, leading to a lack of resilience and an inability to handle difficult situations effectively.
Toxic positivity can also pressure others to hide their negative feelings and put on a false front of happiness, which can be harmful to their well-being.
Examples of toxic positivity
- Dealing with grief, or personal loss, by pushing feelings of bereavement aside and refusing to acknowledge the pain caused by such loss.
- When someone tells you to simply not worry and be happy, implying that happiness is a choice. It can induce guilt about what you are feeling and encourage you to bury emotion instead of expressing it.
- ‘It could be worse’ and ‘You have all you need for a good life’. These are other examples of toxic positivity that many of us unfortunately still hear regularly. Both minimize individual experience and prevent people from processing their emotions.
This apart, it can manifest in more uncanny forms. And it may result in an outright dismissal of negative emotions, constant pressure to find the silver lining, and the belief that complaining at all or being sad is completely unacceptable.
Who is most likely harmed by toxic positivity?
While toxic positivity is harmful in general, certain groups of people are more vulnerable.
1. People with mental health issues
Toxic positivity can be very harmful to individuals who are struggling with additional mental health issues. It might be people with anxiety or depression or even to individuals facing acute sadness, anger, or grief.
This is because toxic positivity involves denying or ignoring these emotions. Instead, it promotes an unrealistic and oversimplified view of the world that everything is bound to be good and one must always be happy.
2. People going through bad times
For people who are going through a difficult time, hearing messages of toxic positivity can feel invalidating and dismissive of their experiences. It can also create pressure to suppress their true emotions, which can lead to further stress and mental health issues.
3. People with chronic diseases
It can also be harmful to people with chronic illnesses, disabilities, or other life challenges that may limit their ability to experience positivity. By expecting them to be always positive and downplaying their struggles, toxic positivity can add to their stress and further marginalize their experiences.
Overall, toxic positivity can harm the mental health and well-being of individuals facing challenges and negative emotions. And it is important to acknowledge and validate these experiences instead of simply denying or ignoring them.
The fine line between positivity and toxic positivity
Undoubtedly, staying positive is a coping mechanism. However, at some point, it gets too much to take for the suffering individual. That is when positivity starts getting toxic, affecting the individual immensely.
However, When it gets toxic, it differs from person to person.
Every metal has its own breaking point, melting point or boiling point. Similarly, every individual’s mental strength is different, and their needs are also different.
What might be positivity for one may overwhelm another.
An example of toxic positivity may explain this more clearly:
If your friend has a fracture and is immobile for a few weeks. She will naturally be anxious about her missing classes, missed submissions, approaching exams, etc. Couple to them, she will also feel frustrated cooped up in the dorm.
Ensuring her that things are going to be alright and she must stay positive is indeed helpful. But hearing the same things again and again, might make her more anxious. She may try to suppress her pain, anxiety, boredom, etc. and may try to be cheerful. This may lead to a full blowup one fine day.
Instead, along with encouraging her to stay positive, if you also acknowledge her physical and mental pain, offer to help her with submissions, share the day’s classes, and spend significant time with her in the dorm will lead her to a quick recovery.
Another example to explain the subtle difference between positivity and toxic positivity:
The following image describes a situation between a mother and her child with mother’s reactions showing negativity, positivity and toxic positivity.
Here when the mother brushes off the child’s hurt feelings of not doing the test well, it may be because she does not want her child to feel sad. She may think her approach of ignoring the failure will help her child. However, she is missing teaching her child that it is okay to feel sad and bad. She is also losing her opportunity to educate her child about learning from mistakes and not repeating them.
Hence, it is a fine line between positivity and toxic positivity, and knowing the difference is important to avoid trouble.
Ways to prevent positivity from getting toxic
Some ways to inculcate a healthy shift from experiencing toxic positivity and allowing yourself to process your negative feelings/emotions include:
1. Acknowledge and validate all your emotions:
Let yourself and others experience and express their full range of emotions, including negative ones. Acknowledge that it’s normal to feel sad, angry, anxious, or disappointed. And that these feelings are a natural part of the human experience.
2. Practice empathy:
Try to understand and share in the feelings of others instead of downplaying or dismissing them. Listen to what people are saying and show that you care about their experiences.
3. Encourage self-care:
Encourage people to take care of themselves, including their mental health, by engaging in activities that bring them joy, relaxation, or peace.
4. Reframe your thinking:
Instead of always focusing on the positive, let yourself see the full picture, including the positive and negative aspects of a situation. This can help you develop a more nuanced and realistic view of the world.
5. Promote a growth mindset:
Emphasize personal growth, learning, and resilience, instead of perfectionism. Encourage people to see challenges and failures as opportunities to learn and grow rather than as reasons to be down on themselves.
6. Be mindful of language:
Pay attention to the words you use and how they might affect others. Avoid phrases like “just be positive” or “don’t worry, it’ll all work out,” as they can be dismissive of someone’s struggles.
By adopting these practices and fostering a more accepting and understanding environment, we can help prevent toxic positivity and support one another in an authentic and meaningful way.