What Is Toxic Positivity And How Can It Affect Your Life?

toxic positivity


While toxic positivity tends to come from a good place, it can prevent you from going through a normal emotional processing flow. Making room for your feelings to come and go and giving yourself all the time you need to accomplish this are key ways to end up feeling better. Learning to sit with your negative emotions will always give you a truly positive outcome. 

Key Takeaways

  • Toxic positivity is a type of gaslighting that can make you feel like your emotions are being invalidated. 
  • While you might think being positive is the best way to approach everything, negative emotions are a normal human experience. 
  • The right way to help someone going through hard times is to make room for them to feel.

What is toxic positivity?

By definition, toxic positivity is the need to make every experience a positive one regardless of how hurtful it actually is. As human beings, we’re not wired to be happy all the time. Content? Sure. Calm? Yes. But happy? No. 

So when we find someone who never seems to get mad, upset, or hurt our spidey senses start to tingle. They never seem to be willing or able to sit down and talk about issues or frustrations that need addressing. This doesn’t leave room for negative feelings to be processed, which is a normal and even needed process of being human. 

When it’s us performing toxic positivity all we’re doing is pushing the “bad” feelings down until they come back up in an explosion we can’t control. Instead, if we took the time to actually experience those negative feelings we’re more likely to navigate them in a positive way. 

Toxic positivity vs gaslighting

If gaslighting was a tiny universe (manipulation through lying about something to convince the receiver their view of reality is wrong), toxic positivity would be a sizable planet. In a way, toxic positivity is accidental gaslighting in the sense that forcing yourself to not feel sad emotions warps your version of reality until it’s not real at all.

In this YouTube video, Mahmoud Khedr, CEO of FloraMind shares more about how toxic positivity and gaslighting can basically just make you feel worse. Mahmoud is a Forbes 30 under 30 scholar and has a degree in Social Entrepreneurship from the City College of New York. His company, FloraMind, focuses on providing mental health programs to local schools. 

Toxic positivity on social media  

If you’ve spent any time on the internet lately you’ve probably noticed most platforms are suffering through a toxic positivity pandemic. Comments sections are flooded with nothing but “kind” words and feeds are brimming with positive mantras and phrases – no matter what’s going on in the world. 

We all know social media is a highlight reel where you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone showing you anything real and relatable. 

What does toxic positivity look like in real life? 

The next time you’re experiencing a difficult situation, try to pay attention to what the people around you are saying to you. Some of the most common phrases you’ll hear sound like:

  • Everything will be fine
  • Look on the bright side
  • Everything happens for a reason
  • It could always be worse
  • Just think about happy things!
  • Cheer up!
  • Just don’t think about it

While it’s very likely the person saying them to you (or even if you’re saying it to yourself) is trying to be helpful, it’s ok to feel like they’re invalidating what you’re going through. After all, you need to be able to sit with those emotions in order to let them pass and not leave scars in the end. 

What does non-toxic support sound like? 

When someone else is forcing you to deal with their toxic positivity it generally stems from their inability to face their own negative emotions. They find them painful and assume not feeling them is the right choice. However, they can actually be powerful and positive in their own way.

Instead, keep an eye out for people saying phrases like these. It’s an indication they’re giving you space to feel what you need to, support you through it if you want to, and respect your own emotional timeline.  

  • How can I help you feel better?
  • What can I do to make this easier for you?
  • That sounds like it’s been really hard for you
  • I’m proud of how courageous you’re being
  • That sounds difficult. Do you want to talk about it?
  • I can’t begin to imagine how that feels. I’m here for you
  • I’m so sorry you’re going through this. Would you like me to distract you for a while?

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So, what’s the right way to deal with hard times or emotions?

While there isn’t a right way to deal with things that cause us pain, there are some tips you can follow to approach the situation in a healthy way. Here are some ideas of ways you can help yourself navigate through hard times.

Talk it out

Sometimes talking to someone about how you’re feeling is enough to start the healing journey. Ideally, you would choose someone that isn’t answering with toxic positivity. Those are the kind of people that will actually help you along and not hinder you.

Feel them

One of the biggest things about negative emotions is that we tend to want to push them down and pretend they’re not there. But letting them pass through us without judgement can actually make us feel better in the end. To do this, the moment you feel anything emotional happening try to take notice of where in your body it’s manifesting. Anxiety in your stomach? Stress in headache form? Or sadness in your chest? Just mention the location in your head and then follow that emotion as it makes it way through your body.

Be patient

The truth is that negative emotions won’t be gone in a second. They take time, sometimes lots of it, in order to dull and fade away. Sometimes they can even seem to be gone only to pop back up again unexpectedly. Be kind to yourself and patient and let your body and mind take all the time they need.

Distract yourself

If you find yourself not being able to think about anything else, it might be a good idea to distract yourself with an activity you like. Try going for a bike ride, crafting, or going to the movies. Essentially anything that will take your mind off what happened for a little while.

Related Readings

Getting People Right (GPR) is an educational website providing professionals from all types of businesses with practical education in entrepreneurial leadership. To keep evolving your leadership toolkit, additional GPR resources below will be useful:

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