Toxic Positivity: Will We Really Be Okay?

Do happiness and positivity really fix everything? Learn more about how our own words of sentiment can be harmful indiscrete ways.  

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By Trianne Hontiveros
Published February 09, 2022

“Think positive!”, “Love yourself!”, “It could be worse”, “Don’t worry!”

These are all statements we have all been told, and even said before. 
We say it usually to someone who is having a hard time. We would rub their back, to help console them, saying things like  “It’s going to be all right” and leaving thinking we have done something good for our friend. But have we? Do our go-to words of comfort actually have an impact? We may have not thought about it much, but interestingly, it does more harm than good. This is called toxic positivity. 

Much similar to toxic masculinity, where society pressures for men to behave in a certain way such as telling them to “man up”, toxic positivity is similar where we are subliminally telling people, and even ourselves to toughen up, or to “look in the bright side” when undergoing a tough time. Many mistake toxic positivity as a way to help bring up a person but we are actually dismissing negative emotions and responding to their distress with false reassurances rather than empathy. This is a problem because when we are constantly bombarded with the expectation of being positive all the time regardless of how hard a situation is, it can lead to guilt, shame and can cause people to repress their authentic emotions.

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Toxic positivity can lead to mental health effects. It may be subtle at first but over time, the effects can snowball. From starting to brush off problems rather than facing them to feeling guilty about being sad, angry, or disappointed and even trying to be stoic or "get over" painful emotions, these effects are something we cannot realize instantly but they are definitely not healthy. Long-term suppressed emotions can later lead to anxiety, depression, and even physical illnesses since the body is also well affected by stress. Further psychological studies were done that conclude that when one suppresses and denies emotion, it leads to more internalized stress and even difficulty avoiding distressing thoughts and feelings (See here).

 

When understanding toxic positivity, it is important to differentiate between toxic statements and understanding, empathetic statements, especially when helping out someone, and even yourself through a tough time. 

 

Here are some ways we can all start incorporating non-toxic statements:

  • Instead of: “Everything will be ok,” say, “I hear you, take your time.”

  • Instead of “Keep smiling, you got this,” say, “I understand how you feel.” 

  • Instead of:  “Smile! Crying won’t help,” say, “It’s okay to cry, just let it out.”

  • Instead of: “It’s not that bad,” say, “ I am here for you.” 

 

Here presented are only a few ways to start preventing toxicity especially when we mean well. The importance of toxic positivity is that it is ingrained in us to say these statements when the situation calls for it. It has gotten to the point where we really don’t understand what the statement connotes and what kind of effect it leaves on others and even on ourselves! Many people don’t know what toxic positivity is, and it should be time to bring more awareness. 

 

So yes, not everything will be okay. Not everything will be perfect or good. And that is perfectly fine. You can feel sad, angry, confused, nervous– and everything in between. Happiness isn’t always the key to everything in life. Your true feelings are valid.

Cherry, Kendra. “Why Toxic Positivity Can Be so Harmful.” Verywell Mind, Verywell Mind, 1 Feb. 2021, https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-toxic-positivity-5093958. 

TL;, W. D. M. S. D. J. C. S. R. W. (n.d.). Paradoxical effects of thought suppression. Journal of personality and social psychology. Retrieved January 27, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3612492/ 

 

WebMD. (n.d.). How stress affects your health. WebMD. Retrieved January 27, 2022, from https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/stress-anxiety-depression