This is Astonishing: 7 Life Examples Of Toxic Positivity

Human beings seem to have a natural bias toward the negative. We tend to pay more attention to negative aspects and overlook the positive.

Psychologists believe human beings had to pay full attention to life-threatening signs. In the early days of human history, our survival depended on it.

Fast forwarding to today, we seem to display the same tendency. Interestingly, this bias has also shaped scholars’ interests and research direction.

Until recently, we knew very little about what makes life worth living. Psychology spent most of its resources on studying illness rather than wellness.

Thanks to research in the field of Positive Psychology, we now have a clearer picture. Here are some aspects that contribute to greater well-being:

  • positive emotions,
  • feeling engaged,
  • positive relationships,
  • a sense of meaning, and
  • achievement

These are the components of the PERMA model, developed by Martin Seligman. Seligman studied depression for many years. He is also the author of Learned Optimism.

This positive light on what makes us human and happier has been great. It has brought some balance to the study of human existence.

However, a lack of critical thinking has led people to unhealthy positivity. Instead of recognizing the value of negative emotions, people shut them down. They force a positive light onto all experiences.

Such an attitude can be harmful to people’s mental and emotional health.

What is Toxic Positivity?

The internet is packed with motivational quotes:

  • Positive vibes only
  • Every day is a good day to be happy
  • Radiate kindness like confetti

Most of us love quotes like this. We tend to think they are positive and harmless. Aren’t they mean to motivate and inspire us to be and do better?

There is nothing wrong with wanting to improve ourselves. There is, however, a risk associated with this kind of quote. They reinforce toxic positivity.

Toxic Positivity is somewhat an escape. It is an obsession with positive thinking and attitudes. Are you having a bad day? Smile, you are being watched.

When positivity turns into a cult, it becomes a risk for emotional health. Not only for you but everyone around you.

Without realizing it, you are broadcasting the message that it is not ok to be not ok with something. You must perk up. Time is ticking. No room for grumpiness or heartache!

Despite their importance for well-being, forcing positive emotions is unhealthy. It is a way to silence, deny, or ignore negative emotions. These play a role too in our well-being journey.

Negative emotions are helpful signs. They warn us about aspects we should be looking into. Anger can be a natural response to social injustice or even abuse.

Anxiety can be a sign that we don’t have sufficient information to guide our thinking or actions. Sadness can indicate that something or someone is important to us.

Negative emotions and experiences need to be integrated into our well-being journey. They are not pleasant but they are part of human existence. Embracing them is the first step to healing them.

Consequences of Toxic Positivity

What we deny in ourselves, we tend to suppress in others too. When we don’t acknowledge our negative emotions and experiences, we may prevent others from doing the same.

Personal Consequences

At an individual level, we may shut down. Or even reach a level of overwhelm that compromises our mental health. The more we try to shake negative emotions off, the less energy and capacity we will have to keep going.

Complex negative emotions don’t disappear by themselves. Time alone does not heal. We need to sit down and face what our emotions have to tell us.

Dealing with the negative is not pleasant or comfortable, but ignoring or denying it only increases toxicity.

Dismissing the negative and solely holding on to the positive can also put you in situations that lack realism. This is what we also know as blind faith.

Social Consequences

At a social level, toxic positivity reinforces you can’t be negative. You can’t hang around with your negative self. You should not carry that cloud with you.

Although most people have no intention to harm, their ready-made responses can hurt. Suggesting gratitude exercises right away invalidates what the person is feeling. The same goes for positive thinking.  

This band-aid approach to negative emotions makes people feel worse. They add feelings of failure, incompetence, and frustration. They tell people they must endure and hang on.

Such an approach creates distance between people rather than bringing them closer. In the long run, relationships can become shallow and eventually break.

Seven Everyday Life Examples of Toxic Positivity 

Situations requiring empathy and vulnerability are not always easy to deal with. Sometimes we don’t know what to do or say. Without intending it, we may contribute to feelings and experiences of invalidation.

One step we can take is to encourage openness and practice being fully present. We need to internalize that negative emotions are as just as valid as positive ones. The more we hold this idea, the more comfortable we will be with negative emotions.

Another step we can take is to stop the urge to make other people feel better. Sometimes people only need and want to be listened to. We may offer suggestions but we must create a safe space first for that person to share. They need to feel their feelings won’t be brushed off.

To make this point clearer and more concrete let’s look at some real-life examples.

Everything Will Work Out In The End

I’m guilty of saying this a lot, especially to myself. These words may sound innocent and even well-intended. However, they subconsciously give us the message that what we are feeling or thinking right now does not matter. Why waste time processing it?

Positive Vibes Only 

I find this statement one of the most toxic ones we can find. It tells us that if we are not positive or happy, we are not welcome. It creates the pressure of having to be happy and excited all the time, even when we don’t feel like it. Be happy or you’re out.

If I Can Do It, So Can You!

This was by far one of my favourite quotes to use. I thought it was empowering. When I reflected on more recent experiences I immediately saw how toxic this can be. Just because someone lost weight with this or that approach, it doesn’t mean it will work for us the same way. We are all unique and it’s important to honour that.

Look For The Silver Lining 

It’s nice when we can draw lessons or positive consequences from a less pleasant situation. It can take us time to reach that point though. Being suggested to look for the lessons or silver lining can bring frustration and despair. We might not yet have enough clarity about our feelings and experience to do that.

Everything Happens For a Reason 

I’ve repeated this one countless times. When I stop to think about those moments in which I heard this… I know it didn’t help much. Again, we mean no harm, but when we say this to someone we are conveying to their subconscious that they have no reason to be upset. We are invalidating people’s emotional experiences. 

It Could Be Worse 

It can always be worse but that does not help us feel any better at the moment. When we say this to someone who is emotionally upset, we are forcing them to be grateful. Gratitude is a magical and special experience, but it cannot be forced or offered as a band-aid in a hot moment.

It Is What It Is 

This is likely the one I dislike the most. When I hear this, I question myself. Really? Is that all you can tell me? Should I be happy or content? Grateful? This shows little empathy for what a person is feeling. It also plants the idea in your mind that you should be somewhat passive about it. It’s just life, isn’t it? 

Final Thoughts 

When we see people pushing positive thoughts or emotions, it does not mean they are being toxic. Positive thinking, gratitude, and positive reframing are helpful strategies.

These strategies can’t be, however, offered as band-aids. They can’t be a way for us to dismiss or shake off less pleasant emotional experiences. Whether our own or other people’s. 

If we want to be positive role models, we need to be the first ones to embrace both sides of the emotional spectrum. For years, I have been the queen of emotional denial and I no longer want to contribute to that.

Learning about these seven real-life examples has made me rethink the way I exert my empathetic skills. I hope they will nudge you too. 

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32 Comments

  1. Well, this is eye-opening! I haven’t seen the harm in these quotes but I do see it now. And they are wearing a great disguise to throw us off track. Thank you for this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, some come with a great disguise! Exploring language and the subconscious is a fascinating world.

      Like

  2. I love this because about 10 years ago I went down the positivity rabbit hole. It’s absolutely great to see the glass half full but our society has been conditioned to believe we “have” to be happy if the glass isn’t half full. I say feel every emotion + process it. It’s coming from somewhere for a reason. Feel it + allow it to pass. Love this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for adding your perspective and experience. It’s always great to see how this can affect or impact people’s lives. It can be a rabbit hole indeed, I like how you put it!

      Like

  3. Rachel says:

    I’m guilty of saying the above, even though I thought I was trying to help.
    I think you’re right that people just want someone to listen to them and be told it’s ok to be upset or angry.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can relate, Rachel. I too have been guilty. Tomorrow there will be a new post with some guidance on how to avoid toxic positivity and what to do instead. Thanks for coming by!

      Like

  4. Benny says:

    This post is definitely one to make you reconsider many of the beliefs we haven been given through society. And although I have been guilty of using the examples you gave. The one you like least I’ve used a lot. But I’ll refrain from doing so in the future. It’s also true that’s I’ve always tried to solve other people’s problems, while they just wanted someone to listen to them.
    As someone who feels closely related to Stoicism, I try to use the negative events to become a stronger person. It’s not always easy and it takes hard work to get through, but it works for me. I try to see the positive messages others give me for what they are. People who wish to be helpful, even though they might not be helping effectively.
    I think I could write a lot more, such a brain trigger has this post been, haha. But I’ll leave it here. I might have to read it again and again. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for bringing focus to that aspect, Benny. Although toxic positivity is not healthy or helpful, it is important to hold enough space to see that others are sometimes doing their best to help. Thanks for your great inputs and shared experiences, I appreciate them.

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  5. zacthrav says:

    Great post, and I have noticed phrases that I have started to use in my videos and in general which I will now stop, as they are distracting from the point I am trying to make. In my times of depression I have been met with so many stock phrases and answers, and all have not helped. I’m getting pretty tired of Instagram posts of positive affirmations that do make you feel sick when you are just experiencing a low. They have good intentions, but it can be too much. However, like Benny, I study and practice Stoicism and understand that my reactions are my choice, I wish to embrace all of my emotions, positive and negative, to live in balance and harmony. I approach everything now with love, and if I feel negative and start to feel the slide down, I accept it rather than fight it. We are emotions, and all are valid. Sometimes a smile and a knowing nod is all that is needed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for bringing light to the need of meeting what happens with love. Toxic positivity can negatively impact mental health but there is also agency and personal responsibility for how we deal with it or how we let it affect us. Thank you, Zac!

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  6. Ezioma Kalu says:

    I didn’t even know toxic positivity was a thing. And it’s something we indulge in daily thinking it’s motivational and inspirational. I love this post. Negative feelings are as important as positive feelings, we just have to strike a balance. And we should not invalidate our negative feelings just because cause we want to instill a positive mindset.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I liked how you put it, Ezioma. Sometimes we force the positive in ourselves and others just because we believe a positive mindset is more desirable. Thank you for bringing light to balance, I believe it’s an important keyword when looking at emotions. Thank you for sharing, I appreciate your feedback!

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  7. A while ago now I shared a post on my site about dealing with toxic positivity as I experienced quite a lot of it when my husband was ill; people were definitely trying to be well-meaning but the dismissal of the seriousness of the situation or the “band aid” nature of their support ended up being extremely hard to deal with — indeed when I spoke up (as kindly as my frayed emotions could cope with) and mentioned that what was being said was not helpful I was labelled as ungrateful or a b*tch (which added so much more stress). Thanks for sharing this as so many people need to be aware of the very real problems toxic positivity can inflict.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience with toxic positivity, Molly. I can only imagine how hard it was to deal with and manage. You did a very brave thing and held the strength to communicate your needs. Being labelled bitch rang a bell over here too. I will lookup for your post as I’d love to connect more deeply with your experience. Thank you!

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  8. Oh boy. I have said many of these things and I now see how they suggest avoiding dealing with the negative emotions under the surface. Thanks for an informative post that puts the spotlight on an important topic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Michelle, I appreciate your feedback. I’ve been guilty too. The good news is that we can work on it.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. C.S.I says:

    All I can say is EXCELLENT!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve been studying about toxic positivity ever since last year. But I never thought that these seven things are toxic positivity. I will study more about them and will bookmark this post. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Fadima. I’m happy this brought new insights.

      Like

  11. Toxic positivity is a dangerous thing and a horrible thing to experience, it’s so important to get rid of any toxic positivity, even if it’s coming from a family member or a friend x

    Lucy | http://www.lucymary.co.uk

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It can be harsh indeed, Lucy, especially when we are in a very vulnerable and sensitive place. Some people are not aware they do it and we can try to kindly let them know how we felt about their words and what we actually need from them to feel more supported. Thank you for your feedback, I appreciate it very much.

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  12. Cassie says:

    Truly excellent article, Vanessa! I think you are so right. I am one of those people who love quotes. I think that they can cut to the heart of something and give you a little nugget of perspective or inspiration. I am also a realist. It’s hard not to view life through the lens of my experiences. That means that while I can be positive and supportive, I also know that you can’t paint the world with the same brush. I have used the same quotes and I’ve also had them told to me. I do know that if you are not in a place to hear it and take it for the intention, they sound hollow and fake. It’s a fine balance that’s for sure. We are surrounded by so much negativity that I fully embrace the positive intentions that people are spreading. But there is a balance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I super appreciate your feedback and perspective, Cassie. Two sentences were a big highlight for me: you can’t paint the world with the same brush and the place we find ourselves plays a big role too. At the end of the day, the responsibility is in all of us. Thank you, I appreciate your comment big time.

      Like

  13. ronbus83gmailcom says:

    Another great read Vanessa. What you said here probably should be highlighted in red “Negative emotions are helpful signs” they warn us. But because we view them as a bad thing this leads to denial and then boom positive toxicity. And if religion comes in the picture it can get really toxic. I enjoyed reading that, thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Ron! I think I will go with your suggestion and highlight that sentence about emotions.

      Like

  14. Interesting post Vanessa. I get what you’re saying, and I’m guilty of using some of these quotes. But I do believe there are some situations and circumstances in life that are difficult and you just have to get through it knowing it will be better in time and that feeling will pass. It is what it is for now but it won’t be like this forever, if you know what I mean. Great post. Thanks for sharing. Jade MumLifeandMe

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Jade, I appreciate your feedback and perspective ✨

      Like

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