top of page

What is Toxic Positivity?

Sometimes life throws curve balls, and sometimes the ball machine totally breaks and starts pummeling you with balls.


While being positive is essential when facing hard situations, there is an unfortunate extreme to that. I am seeing a lot of Toxic Positivity, and it is both annoying and dangerous. Toxic positivity is the idea that you should always strive to be happy no matter what. You ignore the negative things and only put on your happy face. Common cliches for this are: Look on the bright side. Keep your chin up. Find the silver lining. Be grateful for what you have...


Recently, my mom was sharing her frustrations at having her car totaled while she was stopped at a red light, having to get contractors to finish a roofing job in the middle of winter because if they don't finish, the bats will move back into our house this summer, and the stressors of working retail in a tourist town at peak season. The response to her sharing her frustration was “why are you being so negative about everything; you live in a beautiful place, be grateful”. Yes, I was annoyed by this answer. (I thought of Joy from Inside Out ;)

It was dismissive and lacked any empathy. On a bigger level though, it is dangerous. You cannot logic or pretend emotions away, so if you don't face them, you will either spend time running from them with things like alcohol, social media, etc, or your emotions will come out as anger, anxiety or depression.


If you can’t acknowledge the emotions around events, how can you really face them and move through them? It is a fallacy to believe we can get rid of negative emotions, and I actually think it’s terrible to assign emotions as good or bad. Our emotional response to an event is powerful information that can be used in a helpful way. Being frustrated can indicate that a basic need, such as a sense of safety isn’t being met.


When I get too hot, I get very cranky and irritable. No amount of ignoring the heat or telling myself that there are things in life to be grateful for will make me feel cooler or less irritable. It’s also not ok to keep being mean to people because I am uncomfortable, and being irritable without trying to find the root cause might also lead to heat stroke or loss of friends. It’s my job to recognize that I am hot and take care of myself, or even ask for help to cool down. 


Acknowledging that something is hard, unfair, painful or uncomfortable is not the same as staying stuck in a negative mindset where EVERYTHING is hard, unfair, painful etc. For me, being alive and really experiencing the full range of emotions helps me to learn how to react and respond to them in a healthy solution oriented way. I personally feel a lot of gratitude in being able to feel all of the complex emotions that are a part of life. Knowing that I can feel complex emotions, and work through them means I am confident that I can face the challenges life throws at me and still find beauty in the world. For me, that is what a positive mental attitude is.


What about you? What are some tools you've learned that help you process negative emotions in a healthy way without jumping too quickly to toxic positivity? 


bottom of page