By Angelica Bottaro

Life is tough, and there’s really no way of getting around that. Bad things happen for no reason sometimes. Naturally, when something awful happens to you or someone you care about—or even just in the world—you’re going to feel downright angry, upset, sad, or any other negative emotion you happen to experience at that moment. That’s completely normal, and it’s actually the most healthy response to adverse events.

Now, have you ever vented to someone in your life about the tough things you’re going through, and all they can spit back is sunshine euphemisms like, “at least it’s not as bad as insert-something-worse-here” or “stay positive and it will all work out?” 

Basically, whatever words they use, they’re trying to tell you to buck up and get over it. And that, my friends, is the worst advice to give someone who is suffering no matter their personal circumstances. Why? This is toxic positivity at its worst.

What Is Toxic Positivity?

In a nutshell, toxic positivity is the idea that you should always keep a positive mindset no matter what happens. You know the saying, “good vibes only?” Yeah, it’s basically that. It’s telling a person who’s going through something awful that being optimistic is somehow the better approach than dealing with your negative feelings. It’s the idea that any negative emotion felt for any reason at all needs to be rejected or, dare I say, repressed.

Some of you might be thinking that being positive is a good thing, and I agree, but being optimistic every minute of every day, no matter what life throws at you, is not healthy. 

I repeat: IT IS NOT HEALTHY! 

Unpleasant emotions need to be felt as they come, or they will fester. Toxic positivity doesn’t eliminate these emotions just because you pretend that you’re happy when you’re not. It tells you that your negative—and totally human—feelings are somehow wrong regardless of what caused them.

Why Is It Dangerous?

Pushing people into putting up a façade of happiness isn’t going to get rid of negative emotions. In fact, it can actually cause more negative feelings to develop. When someone shames you into feeling positive when you’d rather crawl into a bowl of ice cream and cry, you might start to feel guilty or ashamed that you’re not feeling happy. Feeling validated in your emotions helps you process them, and without that, you can’t move on from them.

Toxic positivity also forces you to wear its mask even if you feel anything but happy. Psychologically speaking, being positive or faking happiness isn’t a way to move on from trauma or bad feelings—it’s an avoidance mechanism. Bad feelings are uncomfortable, and people don’t like feeling them but being authentic means being true to how you feel. You can’t dismiss and deny your own inner feelings. 

Oh, and forget about personal growth. If people don’t allow themselves into the dark recesses of their emotions, they won’t overcome any challenges to help them grow and become better, stronger people.

What Are The Signs Of Toxic Positivity?

It can be hard to distinguish between someone trying to cheer you up and someone dripping toxic positivity all over you because they’re too afraid to feel negative emotions, even by association. But you can notice the signs in yourself or others if you’re really paying attention. Signs include:

  • Sweeping problems under the rug instead of facing them head-on
  • Feeling bad about feeling negative emotions
  • Hiding how you truly feel because you think it’s not socially acceptable
  • Hiding any negative emotion when you’re around others
  • Minimising someone else’s pain because you don’t want to hear about it
  • Making others feel bad for being negative
  • Practising stoicism no matter what life throws at you

It’s one thing to be strong in the face of adversity, but it’s quite another to pretend that the horrible things going on around you don’t exist. You can’t repress yourself into a positive situation.

How To Avoid Toxic Positivity

Avoiding toxic positivity isn’t all that difficult. You just need to let yourself be present in your feelings, regardless of how uncomfortable they are. You can manage negative emotions without having to deny them, and in doing so, you’ll be able to develop some pretty fool-proof coping mechanisms. 

Being realistic about how you should feel in any given situation is also a great way to avoid toxic positivity. Did you just go through a break-up? Then, yeah, you’re going to feel some negative emotions even if it was for the best. Let those feelings live for a bit, and then you can move on.

Toxic positivity will not help you get over or through any problematic situations. In the famous words of many people—I’m thinking Jessie-J though—it’s okay not to be okay.