7 mins read
September 24, 2021

Positivity is Sometimes Toxic

Toxic positivity means looking on the bright side to an extreme level. In this blog, you’ll learn examples of toxic positivity, how it hurts, its associated dangers, and how to handle them.
Courtney Hyzy
Courtney Hyzy

A positive attitude is everything!✔️

A positive attitude is everything!❌

How is it possible?

There’s nothing wrong with looking at the bright side of things. But the toxic positive mindset enforces the idea that despite how bad things are in life, we can, and should, still find a way to be optimistic.

In this blog, you’ll learn what toxic positivity is, its examples, how it hurts, its associated dangers, and how to handle it.

Toxic Positivity: What is it?

In a world that often emphasizes the power of a positive attitude and positive outlook, it's crucial to acknowledge that it's not all about unpleasant emotions. While maintaining a positive mindset and thinking positively can be beneficial, there's a darker side to it that often goes unnoticed – toxic positivity.


Toxic positivity is the unwavering belief in maintaining a positive attitude at all costs, even when faced with difficult emotions, negative feelings, toxic optimism, or unrealistic expectations. It's the notion that we should always "look on the bright side," regardless of the situation.

This positive mindset takes the "look on the bright side" to an extreme by unintentionally discounting and dismissing the intricacies of the human experience and our wide range of emotions through brute positivity.

The reality is that:

Life Sucks Sometimes

➤ Bad things happen. ➤ We get hurt. ➤ Our needs don’t get met.

Psychology today expects us to be normal on negative feelings and ignore unpleasant emotions to prioritize positive things. But there is a silver lining between ignoring unpleasant emotions and positive spin. Ignoring the negative self doesn’t help us cope. Toxic positivity sometimes brings good vibes with negative emotions. Positive psychology requires emotional responses to difficult experiences in the right way. The good thing is we can find hope, while the bad thing is we might not have positive emotions about results.

Common Examples of Toxic Positivity‍

Sometimes, we can spread toxic positivity without even realizing it. Read through the following examples if you're unsure of whether you've encountered or accidentally spread toxic positivity:

  • Good vibes only!
  • Don't worry. It'll get better!
  • Just think, it could be worse.
  • Everything happens for a reason.
  • Think happy thoughts.
  • Don’t dwell on the negative!
  • There is so much to be grateful for!
  • Positive vibes only!
  • That sounds bad, but so-and-so recently went through...

Examples of Toxic positivity in the workplace

Toxic positivity in the workplace is the belief that workers must concentrate on positive emotions and a healthy way of working to disavow negative emotions. A toxic positivity agenda calls for being enthusiastic about unrealistic expectations. Here are examples of toxic optimism.

  • Don't worry!
  • Just stress less!
  • Everything happens for a reason.
  • It'll all work out.

Signs of Emotional Suppression

  • Invalidating concerns
  • Dismissing negative emotions
  • Encouraging constant positivity
  • Minimizing emotional repression

Emotional Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which the abuser attempts to sow negative self and difficult feelings in the victim's mind.

You've probably said one or more of the above statements to a loved one, thinking you were helping them navigate a devastating or frustrating life experience.

You meant well, but statements like the above can unintentionally place the recipient in a position of feeling like whatever they're going through isn't that bad, and they should be grateful that things are worse.

Positive Psychology: Human Experience & Psychology Today

Even well-intentioned advice can come across as invalidating. Or, maybe you said the above to yourself during hard times, accidentally downplaying your positive emotions and experiences.

And even if you tried to trick yourself into suppressing the negative feelings or thoughts, did that method work? Or did it trigger even more shame, anger, or resentment? Is there a chance that encouraging positivity can do more harm than good?

How Toxic Positivity Hurts

Toxic positivity hurts when a positive outlook and good vibes are attached to a relationship, or any new job does not work how they were supposed to. Ultimately, it creates negative emotions, leading to a negative self with mental health issues. This human experience of hard times with unpleasant emotions makes that person NOT believe in positive thinking.

The Dangers of Toxic Positivity

In the above situation, if a family member or friend talks about still having positive emotions about positive things to happen soon, they will make their connection weak with that person. At this stage, that person will need sympathy, not empathy. Healthcare professionals have to decide how to help such people in the right way.

Instead of steamrolling negative feelings with positive thinking, try adopting some of the following methods for managing toxic optimism:

  • Validate your feelings.
  • Practice meditation and mindfulness exercises.
  • Don’t add fuel to the fire.
  • Talk to a loved one.

Toxic Positivity Can Lead to Shame

Being met with toxic positivity can keep us and others in dangerous or life-threatening situations. For example, telling someone experiencing depression that "it could be worse" or "there is so much to be grateful for in your life!" may keep them from getting the help they need.

People in abusive relationships may feel encouraged to stay with their partners if others make toxic comments like, "at least you're not alone," or "he seems like such a good guy!"

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‍How To Be Supportive ‍

Being a supportive friend isn’t just about saying what someone might want to hear. It also isn’t about making everything seem significant. Support comes from genuinely listening, acknowledging, and validating another person’s experience.

This can be hard, but letting ourselves and others have the space to feel the depths of positive emotion can be validating and empowering. When positivity is thrust upon us, we risk suppressing our emotions or feeling like a failure when we think optimistically but don't feel optimistic.

You may wonder what you should say instead of brute optimism in dire or frustrating moments and life events.

Common Examples of Positive Thinking

  • No matter how you feel, I am here for you.
  • I hear what you are saying, and it's okay to be frustrated and upset.
  • That sounds really hard, but you are doing your best now.
  • Seeing the positives right now is hard, and that's okay.
  • I know you're going through a lot. Is there anything I can do to help?

Emotional Repression

Supportive statements acknowledge emotions without judgment. They show that you genuinely listen and aren’t afraid of difficult feelings.

When we refrain from toxic positivity and instead use supportive statements like the above, we effectively communicate to our loved ones that we are not only a safe space to land when things are tough, but their emotions and frustrations are also valid.

Suppressing Negative Emotions

Toxic positivity encourages the emotional suppression of negative emotions. While it's natural to want to avoid pain, denying or burying our difficult feelings can lead to further distress and mental health issues.

Pressure to Appear Happy

Toxic positivity can also create pressure to appear happy and positive, even when struggling. This can lead to an unhealthy facade on social media and in our interactions with others.

Internalized Toxic Positivity

Trying to tell yourself how to feel doesn’t work. Feelings are natural responses to internal and external stimuli. They aren’t good or bad. They just are. Shaming yourself for having certain feelings tends to make them more complicated.

Likewise, when we suppress our emotions -- be it frustration, anger, or grief, we neglect to give ourselves the space to feel the depths we're experiencing. Failing to acknowledge or even talk about what we're going through will not make our feelings disappear.

You can combat self-imposed toxic positivity by saying:

  • I have a right to feel overwhelmed.
  • It's okay that I don't feel happy right now. Things are tough.
  • I am only human, and it’s okay to have emotions.
  • Even if this feeling is uncomfortable, I can sit with it.
  • I've been through hard times before, and I will get through this, but right now, it sucks.
  • It’s okay to feel competing emotions at the same time. I can be grateful and worried.

Life happens to all of us, and it's OKAY not to feel OKAY!

➤ Untangling toxic positivity means letting go of perfectionism and control.

➤ You can’t control all the outcomes.

➤ You can, however, focus on how you respond to stressful events.

Is Negativity Okay?

Toxic positivity contributes to 'all or nothing' thinking!

Humans feel a wide range of emotions, each serving a role in our emotional well-being. Forcing positivity may temporarily convince you or someone else that everything must be okay, but feeling frustrated or sad is also normal. Life can be annoying and heartbreaking at times.

We don't advise you to dwell on your pain but encourage you to be bold enough to address your emotions and actively listen to those around you.

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Final Words: Coping With Toxic Positivity

Conclusively, toxic positivity Is real. There is a difference between accepting your emotions and wallowing in them. Taking feelings means identifying and labeling how you feel without judgment. Wallowing often comes from a place of self-pity.

For example, you might believe that you’re the only person experiencing that pain and that life is tremendously unfair. With that kind of pessimistic mindset, it’s difficult to feel better!

Key Takeaways

  • Be realistic about what you feel.
  • Some negativity is normal, be mindful of tendencies to spiral.
  • Don't be afraid to challenge unrealistic expectations.
  • Know that it's okay to feel more than one thing.
  • Notice how you feel and put your feelings into words.
  • Gratitude, self-care, and positive coping strategies can help you manage difficult emotions without suppressing or exacerbating them.

🔍 Have you experienced toxic positivity, either from others or self-imposed?

🔍 How has it affected you during the healing process?

We'd love for you to share your story with our community in the comments.

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