Toxic Positivity: The Dark Side of Optimism


The term “mental health” is always spiraled around either being positive or keeping in touch with our emotions only by projecting all of them on something good or optimistic. We come across people on social media talking about how positivity can change the way you look at things and by doing so one not only normalizes that you ALWAYS need to have a positive attitude but also, being cheerful CAN only make you feel wholesome. What people often ignore is the need to address to themselves and people around them struggling with day-to-day stress that it is okay to be in touch with all your feelings, even the ones you find difficult to express. 

What is toxic positivity?

The term “toxic positivity” refers to the concept of encouraging a positive attitude and ONLY being positive at all times by implying that being optimistic is the only right way to live and overcome inconveniences of life by ignoring anything which may trigger a negative emotion. 

Signs of toxic positivity 

  • You ignore how you truly feel just to feel “better”. 
  • Having an “it is what it is” attitude to suppress your emotions.
  • Saying “this is nothing, worse happened to me” when someone talks to you.
  • Pretending things aren’t that bad.
  • Giving people “be happy and keep laughing” to console whenever they confront you about how they feel. 
  • Showing resentment when people express their anger, frustration, or any emotion other than positivity. 

Why is it harmful? 

When we do or are told by our friends and family to just be “positive” we are in a way encouraging them to cope with an unpleasant emotion in an unhealthy pattern. When one avoids any negative emotion pretending it’ not there, they in a way make it even bigger than it was. It is like telling the person suffering to stay silent about their struggles and pretend things are fine. This may lead to them feeling ashamed of being honest about how they feel in a situation that otherwise is bothersome for them. They may start suppressing their emotions.

People doing so think it is “cool” not to feel anything while they may be exploding from inside. They create a fake version of themselves to present in the public with an “it is what it is” attitude or “everything happens for a reason”. This attitude does not let people face the reality of their situation and forces them to hide behind a fake reality which they have created. If negative emotions are not expressed they get buried deep inside us making us more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. No matter how much of a good intention you keep by encouraging someone to stay positive, in a way you are making them believe that they can only be positive in your presence which can push them further. 

How to distinguish between toxic and non-toxic positivity 

When someone talks about their struggles:

  • Say “I’m sorry you’re going through this” instead of “It could have been worse”
  • Say “I can understand how hard it must be for you, how can I help you? instead of “It happens with everyone, just move on” 
  • Say “Please talk to me, I’m listening” instead of “everything happens for a reason” 
  • Say “It’s okay to feel this way, take your time to accept the situation” instead of “how you feel now won’t last a lifetime”

To be healthy and better versions of ourselves we must always try to communicate our feelings and at the same time be the ear to someone trying to communicate with us.

To keep yourself sane and mentally healthy, be in touch with all your emotions, let them out and feel every bit of it even if they are ugly. Accept that you WILL have bad days and not every day you will feel up to the mark. If you feel that you have encouraged toxic positivity in any way, it’s the right time to cut it out. Remember, the relationship you have with yourself is the most important as it reflects the kind of relationship you will have with others.

Embrace the kind of person you are and all parts of your life. Acceptance of the good with the bad can be the key to it! 

Image by silviarita from Pixabay

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