Toxic positivity manifests in many ways but the harmful result is always the same. Learn about the five common toxic positivity examples.
Toxic positivity is a relentless obsession with positive thinking. Think of it as positivity on steroids. The problem with toxic positivity is that it is more hurtful than helpful. In an effort to be happy all the time, people participating in toxic positivity are pushing a dysfunctional method of managing the full range of human emotion.
While trying to maintain a positive attitude even in adverse situations can be helpful at times, suppressing and avoiding negative feelings entirely is extremely unhealthy. Negative emotions are fair and must be addressed rather than pushed away and invalidated. Emotions like sadness, anger, jealousy, annoyance, and resentfulness are all natural parts of the human experience. These feelings must be recognized. Excessively focusing on positivity prevents people from realizing the reality of their situation and coping with it. It may not be fun, but we need to feel our feelings. It’s the first step of emotion regulation, and it helps us feel better faster. If you aren’t sure how to identify it, here are some toxic positivity examples.
Brightsiding is a common manifestation of toxic positivity – it’s a subcategory of gaslighting, the psychological manipulation of a person into self-doubt, confusion, and questioning of their own sanity. The idea is that no matter what the situation, there is always a silver lining. Telling people to “look on the brightside” when they are going through a difficult situation actually invalidates their emotions and minimizes their problem. Further examples include statements like “at least you don’t have cancer” or “it could be so much worse.” This is unhelpful as it prevents people from regulating their emotions and talking through their problem.
2. “Everything Happens for a Reason”
This phrase is very common in toxic positivity. While the messenger may have only good intentions, statements like this can be very hurtful because they suggest that whatever difficulty a person is going through is actually a good thing. For example, if your childhood pet passes away suddenly and you’re told there must be a reason for it, this may feel like an invalidation of the situation and your resulting emotions. Not to mention, this is a fairly big statement to make with conviction. Many people do not believe everything happens for a reason, especially if they are not religious or spiritual. Blankly stating “everything happens for a reason” may come across as empty and meaningless.
3. Stifling Emotions
Stifling emotions is a typical result of toxic positivity. The idea is that negative emotions are “bad vibes” and must not be voiced. Instead, you are meant to suppress and mask your feelings in an effort to remain upbeat and happy – you may even be shamed for talking about negative feelings. Being told you must accept your situation because “it is what it is” is common. These pressures can come from people around you or from within yourself. This prevents you from properly regulating your emotions, because you are avoiding many of them entirely, which can have serious consequences.
Being guilted for feeling badly about something is an unfortunate result of toxic positivity. Similar to stifling, guilting encourages people to keep their negative emotions inside. The extra layer here is the attack against people who choose to voice their feelings. For example, if you’re upset you were fired unjustly and your friend says, “you really shouldn’t be so mad because at least you got severance” or “there are starving people on the streets who have it much worse,” this is toxic positivity. Guilting people who are feeling bad into feeling even worse is not helpful to anybody.
5. False Gratitude
Toxic positivity pushes people to be overly grateful for what they have, in an effort to ignore downsides and difficulties. For example, you may become depressed after getting let go from work, but you are encouraged by a family member to acknowledge how grateful you are for all the free time you’ve had recently. Feigning gratitude prevents you from feeling your full range of emotions. This is a toxic positivity example, as you are covering up your true feelings with gratitude.
Dealing with Toxic Positivity
Keep an eye out for these examples of toxic positivity and try and avoid people with this mindset. It may even be something you need to work on yourself. Sometimes we become toxic positive people because hearing about negative emotions makes us uncomfortable. Next time you’re about to say “look on the bright side” or “it could be so much worse,” remind yourself to hear the person out and let them process their full range of emotions.
It’s good to try and be a positive person, but not every situation warrants a positive mindset. Allow yourself and others to feel all feelings. You can do this by talking through your feelings with a loved one, writing down your thoughts in a journal, expressing your emotions through artwork, or by taking action if something can be done to mitigate your situation.
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