How Being Positive Becomes Toxic

People are always telling you to stay positive-be positive-think positive. That’s not always realistic, nor is it 100% healthy. That kind of advice can be counterproductive to being ‘real’, being human.

Staying positive can be advantageous many times, but by the same token, brushing off your negative emotions can make situations worse, too. There are times when it is better to feel the negative emotions and get past it. Optimism can be a good trait, but forced optimism can be toxic.

Toxic positivity involves the minimization and invalidation of real, negative emotions in order to promote an excessively happy, optimistic state of mind. In the middle of a downpour of rain, you can always tell yourself that the sun is shining, but that’s not realistic. Something very real is happening, something that needs your action to remedy; not necessarily change.

You cannot remedy a situation unless you acknowledge it is happening first. In this situation, you need a raincoat, towel or an umbrella.

Before you move past negative, painful emotions, you have to process them. Toxic positivity tells you to suppress your emotions instead. That can be harmful. Suppressing your emotions prevents you from moving past trauma and it has real physical and psychological consequences. Stress and chronic pain, even self-medication result.

You can recognize toxic positivity by listening to your internal dialogue. You find yourself constantly telling yourself to get over it, that other people have it worse, and that you are being ridiculous. Even if you are repeating those positive mantras, you aren’t allowing yourself to experience the real feelings beneath the surface.

person holding gray and white throw pillow

Toxic positivity can also come from external sources, like your family and friends. If they try to minimize your feelings or always tell you to ‘suck it up’, distance yourself until you can work through your emotions.

Emotions are meant to be felt and experienced. Accept it. Allow yourself to feel all the pain and sadness and let them have momentary power over you. It’s all a part of what it means to be human, and the only valid way you will get through the rough times. Meditation and keeping a journal can be a great way to work through your emotions. Talking to a therapist or trusted friend can help too.

By doing these things, you allow yourself  the space to feel and manage your emotions, not just suppress them. Managing or regulating your emotions allows you to feel them on the spot, acknowledge them and then work through them as needed.

Forced positivity becomes toxic when you can’t or don’t process your negative emotions. Possessing the mindset that you ALWAYS have to be positive is toxic by itself. As humans, we have emotions and sometimes they are painful ones.

When you see a friend or loved on in pain, avoid being that person who says, “suck it up”, not allowing that person the time and room to feel the emotions they are experiencing. Be the friend who offers an listening ear, and tells that person that it’s OK to feel the way they do. Give them time to work through their internal feelings, and then communicate your reassurance that in time, they will feel better. Be there to help them work them through.

Even emotions that are painful or difficult to understand must be processed. Allow yourself some time to feel whatever it is that you are feeling, while engaging in healthy ways to fully process and move past them. Have faith that the sun will shine again. After all, you’re only human and being so, humans can expect to have a full range of emotions.


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