What Is Toxic Positivity? Definition, Examples & How To Deal With It

Table of Contents
What Is Toxic Positivity – Theory, Risks & How to Avoid

When someone tells you to stay happy, even in the face of tragedy or difficult situations, they are espousing toxic positivity.

The notion that one should suppress negative emotions and stay happy at all costs is at the heart of this idea.

While being positive and optimistic has many benefits to mental health, this theory takes positivity to the extreme. It encourages individuals to have repressed emotions and hide their true feelings.

The constantly happy individual leading a perfectly happy life is the poster image of constant positivity advocates.

However, any potential benefits of having a positive outlook on life are eliminated when you start to neglect negative feelings.

In this article, we will examine the risks of toxic positivity and how you can avoid falling into the constantly positive trap.

What is Toxic Positivity? Definition & Meaning

Toxic positivity is a negative trait of a person who neglects negative experiences and who is overly positive when a situation is negatively serious or tragic.

Toxic positivity is often misunderstood by the general populous. When someone encourages you to look of the bright side or tries to lift your spirits, they are not being toxic.

On the other hand, someone who believes all negative human emotions should be neglected and individuals should constantly be happy does subscribe to this toxic philosophy.

Toxically positive people do not find bad emotions as legitimate and do not recognize the imperfect nature of life.

If you reject or neglect negative experiences, this is being excessively positive to the point of toxicity. It takes away from the authentic experience one should have with their life.

While looking on the bright side is generally a good trait, failing to understand deep emotions that are not positive can be a form of excessive positivity.

When you are so positive that you are not authentic, you are being toxically positive.

Why is Toxic Positivity Harmful? Explained By Psychologists

Toxic positivity can hurt your satisfaction, authenticity, and ability to comprehend challenging feelings.

Instead of being comforted or encouraged, toxic positivity makes people feel ignored and unheard. There are many scientific reasons to oppose toxic positivity.

Examples of Positive Toxicity

  1. It shames people. Being overly positive does not provide any genuine support to those who are struggling. Instead, it tells them their emotions and not valid. It could also make them feel weak, decrease their self-confidence, and isolate them. If you are trying to overcome painful emotions, ignoring them is not the best way to move forward.
  2. People feel guilty for having natural negative feelings. People who are toxically positive state that if you are not always positive, there is something wrong with you or your mindset. However, this simply is not true. Having such a no-negative feeling approach to life only sets people up for guilt when they inevitably experience sadness, anger, or fear. They will start to feel uncomfortable about having anything other than constant positive emotions in their life.
  3. It suppresses normal emotional responses. It is evolutionary and neurologically expected of humans to react to difficult experiences with negative emotions. We evolved to feel afraid when we are in danger, or feel sadness when we lose someone important to use. Toxic positivity teaches people to deny their natural emotional response in favor of inauthentic optimism. Thus, people begin to discount and deny their feelings instead of addressing them and growing emotionally.
  4. It stalls growth. The negative consequences of denying your feelings reach beyond causing short-term distress. In fact, they also prevent you from pursuing personal growth. When you confront your feelings and learn about them, you gain immense insights into your personality, goals, and desires. Without the ability to evaluate and fully feel negative emotions, you cannot gain such insights. You are instead trapped in your current understanding of emotions.
  5. Decreasing self-esteem and confidence. Understand that everyone experiences negative emotions. Suppressing your emotions can lead to even stronger negative feelings. When you realize you cannot handle these emotions by simply being positive, you may believe that something is wrong with you. The general idea that toxically positive people believe in is that if you cannot be positive, you failed. In reality, you are simply experiencing the natural consequences of emotional suppression.

Signs of Toxic Positivity

Toxic positivity is a combination of both a toxic mindset and specific toxic acts. These beliefs and reactions can be subtle.

Some believe that suppressing your inner emotions is a sign of strength, when in fact, it causes more harm.

If you wish to be less toxic with your positivity, watch out for these signs.

List of Toxic Signs

  1. Ignoring your angry feelings, feeling of loneliness, or any negative emotion.
  2. Feeling like you are a failure for experiencing anything other than positive emotions or feeling emotional pain.
  3. Stating that you feel fine and spreading positive phrases even when you feel empty or hurt in reality.
  4. Ignoring the psychological stress others may be going through because it makes you feel negative emotions.
  5. Never recognize the failures of positivity or the fact that being positive does not guarantee success.
  6. Shaming others when they are down or do not have a positive attitude.
  7. Believing that ignoring emotions makes you stronger or better than those who do not.
  8. Viewing difficult emotions as insignificant and unimportant to your long-term happiness.
  9. Posting feel-good quotes or motivational quotes to make you seem more positive and in control of your emotions than you truly are.
  10. When asked for advice on dealing with emotions, I give meaningless and hollow phrases about the power of positivity while failing to address negative feelings.

How to Avoid & Deal With Toxic Positivity

Now that you understand the negative effects of toxic positivity, you may be wondering: how do I overcome it? Firstly, you must understand how this mindset affects your everyday life.

You can take steps to minimize the toxicity in positive thinking and overcome any negative effects this mindset has on you.

Even the most toxically positive people can develop a balance of positivity and negativity in their lives. To combat toxic positivity, try the following strategies.

Manage your negative emotions, but don’t deny them

Having negative thoughts and emotions is part of the natural human experience. When these emotions are left unchecked, they can cause problems.

However, ignoring them completely is equally counterproductive. These feelings provide insights into what you truly desire in life, as well as how certain relationships affect you.

It is best to listen and learn from such feelings instead of running from them.

Be realistic about what you should feel

In certain circumstances, negative thoughts and feelings are a completely normal response. For instance, when a friend moves away, feeling lonely, upset, or even angry are all normal responses.

Convincing yourself you are fine, even when you are distressed, is not emotionally healthy. Do not expect to feel happy 100% of the time.

Take care of yourself when faced with trying times, including by acknowledging your negative feelings.

It’s okay to feel more than one thing

Humans are not born with the capability to feel just one emotion. We are able to feel multiple emotions for a reason. It is nature’s way of telling individuals they are not meant to always be positive.

If you have a large test coming soon, feeling worried or anxious is common and acceptable. It helps you ensure you study and pay attention to every question.

In a way, you can harness negative emotions to your benefit. Shaming yourself for feeling worried will prevent that self-growth, though.

Focus on listening to others and showing support

If you want to combat your inner toxicity, validate your friends, colleagues, and family members’ emotions. Do not make them feel guilty for feeling something.

Offering them optimistic statements is also an ineffective way of supporting them. On the other hand, listening to them and helping them cope with their feelings is genuinely helpful.

Notice how you feel

Recall who you are currently following and which media you consume. If you focus on constantly consuming “positive-only” content, this could harm your emotional growth.

These inspirational accounts can help you adopt a better mindset. If followed religiously, though, they may have negative consequences.

If you find yourself feeling guilty or uncomfortable when viewing this content, try to limit your exposure to it.

3 Books About Toxic Positivity

Books are a great way to learn more about psychology, and toxic positivity in particular. If you are looking to get data and insight from experts, books are one of the best ways to do that.

When looking for books on this topic, consider reading the following:

1. Manage My Emotions: What I Wish I’d Learned in School About Anger, Fear and Love – Kenneth Martz

While this four-part book is lengthy, it provides an excellent overview of both negative and positive emotions.

It helps the audience acknowledge their inner feelings and live a more emotionally fulfilling life.

Dr. Kenneth Martz creates a distinction between emotional desires and true needs, helping readers make more accurate decisions.

In addition, Dr. Martz helps readers assess their current emotions through a series of exercises. She helps people understand their negative thoughts and limit their effectiveness in their happiness.

She helps people understand the nature of emotions and gives readers eight ways to overcome fear, 14 tools to aid anger management, and 12 exercises to ease anxiety.

2. Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change and Thrive in Work and Life – Susan David

Dr. Susan David addresses a unique concept in this book: emotional agility.

Those who are emotionally agile embrace and tackle challenges. Those without this ability shy away from them and stay in their comfort zone.

Dr. David’s entire career is focused on researching the intricacies of emotions.

This theory is based on decades of research and data. Dr. David provides the following definition for emotional agility: it is the ability to cope with your negative emotions, adapt to challenges, and make changes when they are needed.

Instead of upholding toxic positivity standards, Dr. David finds ways to turn negative feelings into strengths and success.

3. Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America – Barbara Ehrenreich

While positive thinking does solve some problems, it is by no means a cure-all. Being positive will not give you an A on the next test or give you a raise at work.

In fact, taking positivity too far has the opposite of the intended effect. Barbara Ehrenreich finds the philosophy of toxic positivity reckless and unhelpful.

People’s extreme positivity did not help her when she was faced with a tragic diagnosis of cancer.

Being prepared for challenges and failure is a better way to approach problems, according to Ehrenreich. Positivity will not bring the positive results often associated with it.

In this book, Ehrenreich calls out the irrationality and unhelpfulness of positivity gurus while proposing a new, more reasonable way to confront negative feelings.

5 Quotes on Toxic Positivity

Many individuals have experienced the negative effects of toxic positivity firsthand. If share their beliefs openly with the public, some will get backlash.

However, the following list of celebrities decided to share the truth behind the toxic positivity movement and the real damage this philosophy causes.

List of toxic positivity quotes

  1. “Sometimes being a friend means mastering the art of timing. There is a time for silence. A time to let go and allow people to hurl themselves into their own destiny. And a time to prepare to pick up the pieces when it’s all over.” – Octavia E. Butler
  2. “I try not to be too optimistic or pessimistic. If you’re a pessimist then that’s depressing all the time; if you’re an optimist and things don’t work out then that’s depressing, too.” –  Nicholas Hoult
  3. “A healthy friendship is one where you share your true feelings without fearing the end of the relationship. It’s also one where you sometimes have to let things that bug you slide. The tough moments will make you wiser about yourself and each other. They will also make you stronger and closer as friends.” – Rachel Simmons
  4. “Positive feelings come from being honest about yourself and accepting your personality, and physical characteristics, warts and all; and, from belonging to a family that accepts you without question.” – Willard Scott
  5. “The nice part about being a pessimist is that you are constantly being either proven right or pleasantly surprised.” – George Will
  6. “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.” – Henri Nouwen
  7. “No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.” – Alice Walker

Toxic Positivity FAQ

How Do You Respond to Toxic Positivity?

Responding to toxic positivity is generally difficult. However, if someone makes you feel guilty or uncomfortable, it is best to distance yourself from them.

If online posts are giving you these emotions, stop following these accounts and limit the social media you consume.

What is Toxic Positivity on Social Media?

One of the most common places to find toxic messages is through social media. Self-help gurus often espouse the idea that you should always be happy and maintain a positive mindset.

They may encourage you to neglect negative feelings or invalidate your emotions. Other ways toxic positivity is shown in social media is through “good vibes only” posts and positivity quotes.

How Do You Avoid Toxic Social Media?

The best way to avoid toxicity is to limit your social media consumption. If you know a certain account triggers guilt, unfollow or block them.

If your friends are showing you this content, kindly talk to them about the dangers of toxic positivity. Additionally, avoid consuming content that bashes negative emotions.

How Do You Deal With Toxic Comments?

When someone encourages you to suppress your emotions, the best way to respond is to distance yourself from that person. Talk to them about how the comment affected you.

If they still do not stop the comments and unhelpful advice, block them or limit the time you spend with them. If they comment on something you posted, delete the comment.

Avoid talking to them on emotional topics.

Your test result:
In less than 15 min, discover what you are great at using our science-backed strengths assessment.
Blog Feedback
Not at all Likely Extremely Likely
Join +3 million people from leading companies in discovering what they are naturally great at