Toxic Positivity Hurts More than It Heals Your Mental Health
Toxic positivity seems to be popping up everywhere on social media. Scrolling through Instagram, I see at least two or three posts a day promoting a view on positivity that may actually be counterintuitive to true happiness. People may ask, "What's the big deal with toxic positivity?" The answer is, in my experience, toxic positivity can do more harm than good in promoting mental health wellness.
What Does Toxic Positivity Do to Your Mental Health?
According to Medical News Today, toxic positivity:
"can silence negative emotions, demean grief, and make people feel under pressure to pretend to be happy even when they are struggling."1
Toxic positivity is the practice of constantly spinning even the most horrific events into something positive. At first glance, toxic positivity may seem appealing, but I know first-hand the effects of this modern-day paradox, and they are often counterproductive to genuine healing.
Toxic positivity is not easily distinguished from healthy positivity. We may encounter toxic positivity daily and not even attribute the term to what we are seeing. A few common examples include the mantras "no bad days" or "be happy always." These statements often encourage a false sense of reassurance and attempt to mitigate negative emotions by avoiding them.2 The problem is avoidance is not acceptance. In diminishing negative emotions and potentially mental health illnesses, toxic positivity often works against eradicating mental health stigma.
How Can We Stop Toxic Positivity for Our Mental Health?
Some people may be deflated by this article; they may think I am criticizing those who use positivity as a coping mechanism. To be clear, I love positivity. I think it is a great way to put less-than-ideal things in our life into perspective, but there is a difference between positivity and toxic positivity. The former, great, the latter, not so much.
Don't worry; I won't drop a bomb like this without presenting ways to practice positivity without diminishing negative emotions. Here are a few tips:
- Be honest with emotions, both good and bad. Toxic positivity dismisses emotions instead of affirming them, and to combat this, we must embrace -- but not dwell on -- all our emotions, even the unpleasant ones. To avoid getting stuck in a funk and a negative spiral of thinking, what works for me is setting a time limit for letting myself feel these emotions. This exercise is relational to the magnitude of the situation, but take failing an exam, for example. I am upset, maybe even ashamed; I don't dismiss these emotions; in fact, I do the opposite. I let myself feel the disappointment, but I do not stay there; I take a breath and focus on the good.
- Encourage others to rethink spreading toxic positivity. People who battle mental health illnesses are all too aware of the fact that sometimes, people just don't get it. It's frustrating; I know, I've been there. Instead of being angry at those who may not fully understand the situation, a more productive way to spend our energy is through education. We can spark open discussions with our friends, family members, and colleagues and help others see a different perspective on the matter.
- Villines, Z., "What To Know About Toxic Positivity." Medical News Today, March 2021.
- Princing, M., "What You Need to Know About Toxic Positivity." UW Medicine, September 2021.
Jack, J. (2022, January 20). Toxic Positivity Hurts More than It Heals Your Mental Health, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, June 10 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivingmentalhealthstigma/2022/1/toxic-positivity-hurts-more-than-it-heals-your-mental-health
Author: Juliet Jack
I have found a lot of toxic positivity within churches.....eg a person MUST BE HEALED if prayed for.
My own mental health has been extremely damaged by words spoken by church folk.
Hi Teresa, this is a great point and a perspective I had not previously considered, so thank you! I am sorry to hear that this is something you've encountered and I hope you have been able to find a place that is more uplifting for your mental health. Again, thank you very much for sharing. I'm dropping some resources here, please don't hesitate to reach out, you're not alone in these feelings. https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/resources/mental-health-hotline-numbers-and-refer…