The Hidden Dangers of Toxic Positivity

by | Jul 11, 2023

What is Toxic Positivity?

It involves dismissing difficult emotions and responding to distressing situations with reassurances that are false, rather than with empathy. There is a universal concept of collective struggle in today’s society. As if other’s do not experience misery or suffering; however, that is untrue as no man is an island. There are dangers to this new societal trend of “Toxic positivity”. How? Well, many people ultimately do feel alone in their struggles. Why? Because many will not admit to their true suffering, all due to societal standards of “Faking it until you make it”. This type of thinking can have harmful effects on a person’s health and wellbeing. Ever heard the phrase: “Look on the bright side”? or “You need to just look for the silver lining”? These types of phrases can be extremely demeaning of a person’s experience and difficult feelings. It is invalidating to tell someone that. It’s almost as if saying “Suck it up!” People comparing their lives to others, as if their lives must be harder, or worse than others, is all perception and in the eye of the beholder. Trauma accumulates over time. I correlate trauma to water. Someone can drown in 2 inches of water, just as much as 20 feet of water. Trauma is not about quantitative measures, rather the perception of how one sees the trauma or the way it impacts their level of functioning.

Results of Toxic Positivity

  1. Toxic Positivity leads a person to bottle up their true emotions. If a person is not allowed to express themselves, those emotions will end up coming out in self-sabotaging ways, despite having a positive outlook. No number of rainbows, sunshine, or cute kittens can alleviate someone’s true suffering, no matter how positively one tries to think.
  2. Toxic Positivity leads to beliefs that are unrealistic. A person might believe there is something wrong with them, that they just can’t “snap out of it”. It leads to feelings of isolation and spiraling feelings of depression that once activated, are very difficult to address.
  3. Toxic Positivity leads to impressions of oneself that are misleading and ultimately untrue. Saying you are “okay” when you are not “okay” can have others feeling as if you are not genuinely or authentically being your true self. Others can read feelings and hear words that are entirely incongruent with one another, leading to others having skewed views of the person saying they are okay. Most people, if they have a good level of emotional intelligence, can tell when a person is being genuine or not in most interactions. No matter how many times a person says they are okay, actions saying otherwise will elicit worry, concern, dread, and even anxiety.
  4. Toxic Positivity leads a person to feel more shame and guilt. Feelings of shame and guilt grow when a person does not live congruently with their words and actions in alignment. They may feel they’re trying to fool others when it is counterproductive.
  5. Toxic Positivity leads to erosion of healthy interpersonal relationships. People, if they cannot trust someone’s words in alignment with their actions, will lose trust in that person, not knowing whether they are being truthful or not. This will cause havoc and people will start withdrawing their attention from the person because it will seem as if the person really doesn’t want help or to acknowledge that there are deeper issues needing resolution.

What is The Difference Between a Healthy, Positive Outlook, Versus Toxic Positivity?

  • Admitting that one isn’t “okay” or expressing literal feelings without masking their painful emotions is important. Not everyone can be okay all the time. Toxic Positivity would be the opposite, masking painful emotions, not admitting true and literal difficult emotions while denying truth—which can be detrimental to a person’s wellbeing. 
  • Suppressing feelings will only lead to subconscious and self-sabotaging behaviors to erupt from under the surface eventually. Acknowledging feelings as to move through them, processing them in a healthy way, is beneficial to both the person and those around them. 
  • A person is less likely to experience shame or guilt if they are congruent with their words and actions, acknowledging those painful emotions to maneuver through them, rather than stuffing them down.
  • Seeing the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful is all a part of the contrast of life. We are all human and all experience suffering and misery. How we handle it makes all the difference in the world.

How Do I Get Help?

It is important to remember that there is help out there if you feel you cannot navigate life’s difficult emotions on your own. At Clarity Family Therapy Services, we have trained therapists who can help listen to those painful emotions, process them, and navigate through the difficulties that arise in life. You do not have to do this alone.

Get in touch today