What You Need to Know About Toxic Positivity

by Alyx Carolus


It seems like more than ever, the world needs some positive energy. We’re experiencing times like never before and we’re leaning on our communities to stay uplifted and renewed. There’s nothing wrong with putting out good vibes, seeing the glass half full, and trying to remain grounded when tough things happen. We’re in a time where generations are seeking out new-age solutions to our problems from collecting crystals to poring over astrology. However, there is a dark side to the permanently upbeat, “positivity over everything” culture that has sprung out on our social media feeds and groups. The emergence of toxic positivity is not a new thing but it’s becoming more and more prevalent, especially during this ongoing pandemic. 


Okay, but how can positivity be toxic? 

Here at Team ATPB, we’re all about embracing the necessary aspects of positivity from staying positive during unsettling times to protecting your energy and inner peace with good vibes. There is no harm in wanting goodness in your life – so when does overly optimistic energy become toxic? 


The Psychology Group defines the term 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.”


The reality is, all our emotions are valid. No matter how unpleasant it may feel. It’s not possible to remain in a constant state of happiness and deny ourselves the opportunity to debrief, reflect, and learn from how we’re feeling. The only way we grow is through deciphering how we feel, dealing with the emotions, and why it happens. Toxic positivity has the same effect as sweeping all your issues under a rug and hoping the heaving pile of dust just disappears. Spoiler alert: it really doesn’t. 



This Psychology Today article highlights, “When you deny or avoid unpleasant emotions, you make them bigger. Avoiding negative emotions reinforces this idea: Because you avoid feeling them, you tell yourself that you don’t need to pay attention to them.”


In the time of coronavirus and the ongoing pandemic, we’re dealing with chaotic emotions all the time. No one has a manual to surviving a pandemic and how it’s impacting the world. A lot of us don’t have the space to remain upbeat when we’re losing loved ones, worried about our own health, trying to hold onto our jobs and survive. 


This Huffpost article succinctly explains, “With the pandemic, the act of survival is mentally exhausting; few want to work on their side hustle or learn a second language when they’re worried about their families and saying goodbye to COVID-stricken loved ones via Zoom funerals.”


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Positive thinking is really important to us since we tend to go through this negative infinite loop where we tend to overthink and over analyze every minor thing so we end up tired, anxious, depressed, and more confused. However, positivity is not always helpful. Actually, sometimes it becomes toxic and damaging, especially when it invalidates, dismisses or ignores struggles. #toxicity #toxicpositivity #mentalhealth #mentalhealthawareness #importanceofmentalhealth #mentalaspect #positivity #powerofpositivity #motivation #selfcare #selflove #loveyourself #beyourself #validation #mentalhealthmatters #itsokaytonotbeokay #acceptance #dontlosehope #dontbeafraid #wellbeing #wellness #bereal #takecareofyourself #positivethinking #anxiety

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How to spot toxic positivity 

Now that we know what it is, how can we spot it in our own lives? In the workplace, toxic positivity can manifest as glossing over important concerns, ignoring valid employee suggestions, and encouraging employees to only display positive behavior. This can actually have an adverse effect on the workplace culture. Deflecting on important issues is a red flag in a workspace, as you’re not allowing people to be honest or offering a space to have discussions. This behavior feeds a culture of insincerity, distrust and negativity. In my personal experience, not listening to employees, and projecting an unreal sense of positivity is the easiest way to lose your core talent. I’ve been called “negative” because I had valid concerns, spoke up regularly, and had insights that needed to be shared. I left after just over a year. Dismissing employee concerns or invalidating how they feel also doesn’t inspire creativity or high-quality work in the long haul. 


Moving to personal relationships, the pandemic has shown a lot of us another side to people in our lives and it might be time to reevaluate why you have these connections in your life. Friends who don’t want to take the time to acknowledge feelings, let alone yours, can really make you feel lonely. 


Health Sessions shares, “Positivity culture puts a lot of responsibility on a person’s shoulders. If you can feel healthier and happier by thinking positively, the reverse surely must also be true: the reason you’re still not better is because you’re not positive enough.”


And while having a positive outlook can change your life and definitely has more pros than cons, it’s imperative that we take time to sit with all our feelings. Let’s stick to being honest over a positive caption. Let’s facilitate dialogue and safer spaces to chat with our community. The glass can be half full or completely empty – human beings are far too complex for only one outlook. 


Image by Hybrid on Unsplash


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