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In her book, The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote, “If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”

While this is true if the garden is literally a garden, but it doesn’t hold water all the time. If you’re standing in a bog, thoughts of gardens won’t help you rescue yourself from the slush you’re knee-deep in.

Toxic positivity is just like a bog. It may seem like a garden at times, but it can become extremely problematic in the long run for the people involved.

To get a better understanding of what toxic positivity is, how it can be harmful and how to avoid it, let’s take a closer look.

What is toxic positivity?

Toxic positivity is the tendency for a person to remain positive at all times – not just for themselves, but also for others. Even in disastrous and heart-breaking situations, they urge people to push the pain aside and find the silver lining.

Positivity can indeed help make your life more enjoyable and comfortable. For example, being positive even if you fail at a task or lose a competition can make you a more self-confident and mature person.

But positivity may not be the right outlook to have all the time. Things become extremely challenging when people start to give a positive spin even to negative circumstances.

In many cases, toxic positivity ensures there is no space for doubt, grief, or fear in your life. Evolutionarily speaking, these emotions have helped humans keep themselves and their loved ones safe during dangerous circumstances.

For example, showing a healthy level of fear or doubt can help you be prepared for the worst. Or, allowing yourself to have a good cry will help release all your pent-up emotions and provide the catharsis you seek (especially if you’ve been through a lot).

But when you display toxic positivity, you tell yourself that optimism is the only answer to any problem you face. You risk silencing your other emotions. This can be particularly debilitating for your mental and physical health.

Examples of Toxic Positivity

So, what does toxic positivity look like?

  • “Everything happens for a reason.”
  • “Be grateful for what you have.”
  • “Other people have it worse than you.”
  • “At least you still have [XYZ]”.
  • “Don’t be such a Debbie Downer.”

Using these phrases or being told these things may seem helpful, but they often don’t make a person feel better.

Why is toxic positivity bad for you?

The main threat with toxic positivity is that it prevents you from actively addressing the challenging situation. By forcing you to look at things with rose-tinted glasses, toxic positivity prevents you from identifying any threats or vulnerabilities that are festering beyond your sight.

Before you know it, you may end up in more trouble than before, because you haven’t taken the necessary steps to address the underlying problem.

Second, toxic positivity tends to dismiss your feelings and makes you feel like your experiences don’t matter. The way in which toxic positivity invalidates other people’s experiences can be particularly traumatic sometimes.

For example, a couple loses one of their children to illness. Someone tells them, “It could be worse. At least you still have your other child.”

This is an example of toxic positivity. It can be an extremely uncompassionate way of addressing another person’s losses and can damage their already vulnerable psyche.

Third, toxic positivity fosters a culture of “extreme stoicism”. What this means is that toxic positivity can make you act extremely rational and unfeeling, even in situations where emotions can be helpful to your healing.

Plus, toxic positivity forces you to hide your emotions, and there is a big risk that you may experience a particularly debilitating breakdown because of it.

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Ways to Deal with Toxic Positivity for Improved Mental Health

Toxic positivity can affect your mental health in many ways. But there are things that you can do to ensure you don’t become a victim to toxic positivity.

Know that it’s okay to not be okay.

The first step is to acknowledge that positive or optimism is not the only answer to everything that happens to you. Accept that feeling sad, guilty, afraid, or doubtful is human, and you’re well within your rights to feel these challenging emotions.

Recognize signs that someone is being positively toxic.

When you’re in an emotionally vulnerable space, it can become very easy to consider other people’s opinions/feelings over your own. But recognizing when someone is displaying toxic positivity is the first step towards managing it.

It’s important to remember that a person who allows you to feel hard/challenging emotions while also giving you emotional strength is displaying the right type of positivity. But someone who negates your feelings and experiences is positively toxic.

Affirm your existence and experiences.

Affirmations are a really good way to acknowledge to yourself that what so-called “negative” feelings you have are completely normal.

For example, take 10 minutes every day to say out loud or think to yourself, “My feelings matter.” Or, “My experience of [XYZ] is valid.”

Open up about how you feel.

Whether it’s through journaling or speaking to a trained professional, it’s important to talk about your feelings. The more you speak about your experiences and how they made you feel, it becomes easier to cope with the challenges and find ways to address any problems.

If someone is forcing their toxic positivity on you, it’s important to ask them not to invalidate your feelings.

For example, a simple statement such as, “Thank you for your thoughts, but I would appreciate it if you could honor how I feel,” can help you stop toxic positivity from being thrown at you.

Reframe your own thoughts and speech.

We often show toxic positivity towards ourselves. Usually, it can look a lot like self-motivation. For example, you may tell yourself, “Just get over yourself and do this thing. It’s not that hard.” While this may feel like you’re psyching yourself up for a difficult task, you’re also invalidating your own hardships.

So, it’s important that you reframe your own thoughts and words. Don’t let positive/optimistic words become your default response to everything. Whether you’re speaking to yourself or to others, allow for challenging and negative emotions to be expressed.

Know that you’re not alone.

This is one of the most powerful ways of managing toxic positivity. When you realize that you’re not the only one experiencing negative emotions, it becomes easier to accept that it’s okay to have these feelings.

Plus, it frees you up to find like-minded people, who can help you cope with your challenging circumstances in life.

When you recognize toxic positivity and actively work to avoid it, your life becomes significantly better and safer. You are better able to plan for your future and take decisions that can help yourself and your entire family.

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