July 25, 2024

Toxic positivity is the idea that you must demand a positive attitude from yourself or others in the face of all circumstances and that this is the solution to difficult situations.


Toxic positivity can refer to how you behave towards your own emotions and thoughts, or it can refer to how others behave towards you when you are having a difficult time.


Pretending everything is okay when it isn't is not good for you nor is demanding that everyone else pretend that everything is okay when it isn't.


There is nothing wrong with being positive or looking on the bright side of things. It can't hurt to try to see the good in situations, rather than focus on the bad. However, when you work to ignore, repress or invalidate your
or others' emotions it can be harmful to you and others.


It's important to learn to have a strategy to make room for and process difficult emotions such as sadness worry and anger. When you shortcut this process and instead insist on seeing things only through a positive lens it
can become toxic.

Examples of Toxic Positivity


  • wanting to bypass difficult emotions dismissing your feelings of anger, sadness, grief, loneliness, or hurt
  • putting yourself down or beating yourself up for being anxious, sad, angry lonely, etc
  • telling yourself other people have it worse than you so you should not have difficult emotions
  • telling yourself to just practice gratitude because other people have it worse


Toxic positivity can harm your relationships with others because people often need to feel validated and heard. 


Invalidating people when they are struggling can cause shame rather than connection.


Think about how you feel when you are struggling and someone tells you:

Be grateful it could be worse!

Focus on the good things Everything happens for a reason


Smile you'll feel better

It's time to move on when you are grieving.

Other examples of this include the media's insistence that we develop a new skill during the pandemic.


These all have the same effect as telling someone to calm down when they are agitated. When I worked with children and I watched parents do this I knew we were in for another hour of tantrums. They don't comfort or soothe you,
help you feel understood or safe, or cared about. That is toxic positivity.


Most of us don't have skilled ways of dealing with our difficult emotions our impulse is to avoid the difficult ones so being overly positive can seem to be an attractive idea.


Unfortunately, suppressing your emotions is a strategy that is ineffective and often contributes to both anxiety and depression, and does not help you regulate your emotions.


Much of what we do in therapy is helping people learn to feel their emotions and healthily cope with them, rather than bury or repress them.


Feelings aren't facts, but they can be helpful and informative, so ignoring the difficult ones aren't a good idea.


Feelings such as anger and anxiety can motivate us to examine whether we are allowing our boundaries to be invaded.


Lonely feelings can help motivate you to reach out to family and friends. If you are practicing extreme positivity and are ignoring feelings that are not positive you can miss important clues about your life that can
inform how you should be living wisely.


Depression anger and overwhelm are emotions that need to be felt, processed, and accepted. Everyone experiences them and they are human emotions that we all share. The way to skillfully navigate them is not by bypassing them by
magically turning them positive, but by understanding that they come and go, are normal, and at times, informative.

What to do Instead of Toxic Postivity


There are many different strategies you can learn in therapy to help with difficult emotions if you are struggling with them.


One such technique is cognitive reappraisal, which helps you explore your loops when you get caught in extremely challenging emotions and see where your thinking might be stuck and perhaps you might have alternate patterns of
thought that could help with your stuck feelings. CBT therapists use worksheets to help you explore thinking patterns.


Other strategies help you open up and practice acceptance and cognitive diffusion so you aren't so disturbed by your thoughts and feelings and aren't avoiding living your life when you have these difficult feelings.


Talking about negative emotions not ignoring them helps us to process them.


To make sure we aren't being toxically positive with others we should:


  • Practice getting more comfortable with negative or difficult emotions
  • Try to practice accepting and allowing people to talk openly about their difficult emotions without shutting them down
  • Encourage people to speak openly about their emotions
  • Avoid trying to have a positive response to everything a person says
  • Recognize that intense emotions come and go they aren't permanent

Medical information obtained from this website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.