Toxic Positivity: What Is It and How Do We Manage It?
Updated: May 7, 2021
Recently I have started hearing about toxic positivity quite a big and was wondering what it was. As a mental health counselor, however, I have not been practicing as a counselor for the past year so was wondering how new of a concept it was. I of course, started researching it and then contacted an old friend of mine who we had worked together for a few years to talk about it.
If you interested in listening to this conversation, it is now up on my podcast: Body and Mind Strong Episode 21. Please check it out!! You can also find it on my YouTube channel, which can be found here. The friend of mine is Aurelio Duarte-Encinas who has his own counseling practice: ADE Counseling.
So, What Is Toxic Positivity?
Here is a little information on it which I have found. According to Konstantin Lukin, Ph.D. who wrote an article about this on Psychology Today, he states:
“The phrase “toxic positivity” refers to the concept that keeping positive, and keeping
positive only, is the right way to live your life. It means only focusing on positive
things and rejecting anything that may trigger negative emotions.”
Sounds pretty simple and what could possibly be wrong with living a life like that? Well, upon further research, I found some negative side-effects of always focusing on the positive and neglecting the negative.
Though first, in another article I found, they expand further on the downside of constant positivity. In this article on The Psychology Group, the authors describe toxic positivity as, “the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations. The process of toxic positivity results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience”.
Then they describe signs of toxic positivity and I will have to admit, when I first read them, I could see all of them being something that can be done/said in a good way...if used once in a while. The more I thought about the signs, the more I realized how they may not be helpful for someone who is struggling emotionally. The seven signs they listed goes as follows:
Hiding/Masking your true feelings
Trying to “just get on with it” by stuffing/dismissing an emotion(s)
Feeling guilty for feeling what you feel
Minimizing other people’s experiences with “feel good” quotes or statements
Trying to give someone perspective (e.g., “it could be worse”) instead of validating their emotional experience
Shaming or chastising others for expressing frustration or anything other than positivity
Brushing off things that are bothering you with a “It is what it is”
Finally, they discuss how toxic positivity can be bad for our health. Being pressured to be positive on a constant basis can lead to shame, suppressed emotions, isolations and other relationship problems.
How Do We Manage Toxic Positivity?
If you find yourself in a situation where you have some not so positive feelings, accept these feelings and realize it is natural for humans to have a variety of emotions and know it is okay not to be okay. In addition, there may be scenarios which you may not be able to avoid the constant pressure to be positive. If this is the case for you, finding an outlet which will be beneficial for you. If it is a friend you can talk with, have a physical outlet, like exercising, or journaling your emotions; try to find a way to let out your emotions.
If some of these activities are not enough to help you process what is going on with you and around you, seek out a licensed mental health counselor. Now, I have heard coaches talk about how they can work with someone who is in distress like this, but I would have to caution you with coaching. I am both a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Certified Life Coach, and I will tell you there is a difference between the two. Besides the massive educational differences, there is a big difference in training and focus of training. When dealing with emotional distress, I would encourage you to seek a therapist versus a coach.
Now, when you encounter someone else who is struggle, one of the better things to do is just to listen to them and validate their feelings, even if it is different than how you feel. Something to keep in mind, two people can go through the exact same event and perceive it differently. That’s human nature.
With all this said, everyone is entitled to their emotions, what is important is how they care for these emotions and how they move on. How someone moves on will more than likely be different than how someone else moves on and let me tell you something, there are so many different ways to cope and move on from an emotionally distress event. In addition, don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you need to.