On Toxic Positivity

Toxic positivity. The phrase seems contradictory at first. How can positivity be toxic? Isn’t “positivity” just being cheerful, smiling no matter what, and looking at the silver lining in every situation?

As a matter of fact, it isn’t. The word “positive” is defined as “full of hope and confidence, or giving cause for hope and confidence” by the Cambridge Dictionary. So rather than always being happy, being positive means having faith that eventually, you will heal.

Toxic positivity is the idea that being happy no matter what is correct, and having negative emotions is wrong. It promotes the belief that even when you are feeling down, you should be “positive” instead of accepting and dealing with your negative emotions.

It is also referred to as toxic positivity when one responds to others’ negative emotions with phrases such as “just be positive” or “it could be much worse”. Phrases like these may not hurt a sad person, but they don’t help either.

Now that I think about it, I have seen the phrase “never give up”, which is considered positive in a toxic manner, almost everywhere. It is a universal belief that giving up is wrong, when, in fact, giving up is human nature. When things get hard, people do get frustrated. Moreover, sometimes when you are frustrated that something is not working, the best idea is to stop trying to do that thing. In my opinion, instead of seeing that as giving up, we should think of it as taking a break, relaxing, and trying again whenever we feel ready. Distancing yourself from something or someone can help you deal with your emotions, so you are not constantly tired or stressed.

Another such phrase people have said to me before (and I have said to others before) is “it could be much worse”. When someone says this to me, I feel guilty for voicing my problems when there are bigger issues in this world, like poverty and racism. However, nobody should ever have to feel guilty about their emotions—it is natural to feel down about what you are going through, even when others are faced with greater difficulties.

Though I don’t believe in toxic positivity, I find myself resorting to it to console my friends more than half the time, without even realizing it. Toxic positivity is everywhere in the world, so it is not your fault if you use it—it has been built into most of us.

If you are having trouble with avoiding toxic positivity, you can look at the picture below (from The Minds Journal).

One last thing: Sharing your problems is an excellent way to deal with your emotions. So if you’re feeling down, talk to someone. Remember, you are never alone.





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