Toxic Positivity: When Happiness Is Harmful

May 31, 2020 Heidi Green, Psy.D.

You've probably been exposed to toxic positivity. You may have a friend who always seems overly happy, even when you know he or she is going through a hard time. Maybe it's a person at work whose chipper attitude feels inauthentic. Perhaps you are an overly positive person who dons a big grin while fighting back tears so others won't see your sadness. While most of us strive to be happy and healthy, there can be too much of a good thing at play when positivity becomes toxic.

Toxic Positivity Is a Coping Mechanism

My mom tended to be inappropriately positive during my childhood. I remember being confused and frustrated by the way she would ignore big problems in our family and walk around with a bright, sunny demeanor despite the intense strife we experienced. I recall feeling like I couldn't come to her with any of my problems because she brushed everything under the rug with a smile. It left me feeling all alone to make sense of our family conflict and my painful feelings.

As an adult, I came to understand her more. My mom had a mother who was very mentally ill and her home was full of conflict too. I think she learned that by always being happy and never having a bad attitude or expressing an emotional need, she could get affection and positive attention from her overburdened parents. I have empathy for her today and it makes me sad that the coping skills she learned in childhood to deal with her dysfunctional family created dysfunction in our home too. Moreover, because she was always so cheerful and superficial in her willingness to talk about deep issues, we never got to know each other well or become emotionally close.

Toxic Positivity Is a Problem Because All Emotions Are Necessary

Our distressing emotions give us information about what is important and how to keep ourselves and others safe. When we ignore them because we don't like the discomfort, we miss out on the lesson our emotions are trying to teach us. Here are some negative repercussions of squashing our feelings with toxic positivity:

  1. Toxic positivity does not allow us to process our emotions so we can properly heal.
  2. Engaging in toxic positivity reinforces that our emotions are bad and should be ignored.
  3. Ignoring our unresolved feelings can lead to physical health symptoms brought on by stress.
  4. Toxic positivity interferes with our ability to genuinely connect with others.

I have learned to appreciate my emotions and treat them as a helpful friend and teacher so I can live a healthy, fulfilled life.

Are you making space for your uncomfortable emotions or is toxic positivity infecting your life? Share your thoughts in the comments.

APA Reference
Green, H. (2020, May 31). Toxic Positivity: When Happiness Is Harmful, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Author: Heidi Green, Psy.D.

Heidi Green is a clinical psychologist and self-love aficionado. She lives her blissful life in Arizona where she enjoys hiking, kayaking, and snuggling her rescue pups. Find Heidi on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and her blog.

Please note: Dr. Green shares her personal opinions and experiences and nothing written by her should be considered professional or personal services or advice.

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