Can positivity be toxic?
positivity can be toxic too

Can positivity be two sides of a coin?

Positivity and the positive mind frame

Positive thinking, positive vibes, positive mind; these concepts are all under the umbrella of positivity. To put it simply, positivity is the practice or tendency of having an optimistic attitude. This is a concept that is being stressed on more than ever in the 21st Century. 

So what are some references to a positive mind frame?

  • Optimistic thinking 
  • Figuring out solutions amidst chaos
  • Expecting good results 
  • Working on making life happier
  • Adopting a worry-free mindset
  • Enjoying the present
  • A state of being happy, tolerant and good-natured

Emotions of happiness, love, affection, inspiration are all associated with being positive. Someone with a mindset like this chooses valid feelings and emotions and try avoiding negativity and unhappy feelings. You’ve definitely heard someone in your life say to you, “Look on the bright side.” These people are generally well-intentioned positive thinkers with an overall good well-being.

Positive thinking might not come easily to some people but there are reasons to at least try. Stress relief, better stress management, elevated physical immunity, reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases, avoiding unhealthy habits, better resilience are to name a few reasons to stay positive.

So what can you do to have a more positive attitude towards life if it doesn’t come naturally to you? Self-love by staying humble, connecting to the present, visualization of ambitions but taking it nice and slow to achieve it, being resilient, taking inspiration from visual media and last but not the least, being kind to yourself. These are some ways to amplify the spark within you. 


Toxic positivity

They say every rose has its thorn. So in some ways positivity can be toxic too. Let’s start with an example. You must have heard of the popular Palestinian-Israeli vlogger Nuseir Yassin a.k.a Nas Daily. Amidst the brutality towards Palestinians by the Israeli forces in May 2021, he posted a photo on his social media platforms saying “Arabs and Jews should be friends.” Naturally, social media went on an uproar and Yassin’s Facebook follower count dropped from 38 million to 20 million. 

The example is a form of toxic positivity. We all know about the decades-long plight of the Palestinian people. Whatever intention Yassin had, that post is a denial of the traumatizing history of Palestinians with Israeli Jewish settlers. He basically sugarcoated the trauma with “positivity.”

Toxic positivity is defined as the over-generalization of a positive mindset across all situations. While being optimistic is generally good for your health, life is not a bed of roses. Life can sometimes treat us harshly. We are all flawed human beings. We’re bound to make mistakes and deal with painful experiences throughout our life. Toxic positivity forces us to suppress these emotions. It rejects or at least minimizes complex but authentic human experiences under a wholesome facade. It invalidates the existence of emotions like pain, sorrow, anger, jealousy and puts you in a state of denial. These emotions are hard to deal with but it’s important they’re acknowledged and dealt with honesty. So ringing the bells of “positive vibes” all day means silencing and dehumanizing any emotions that come across as negative. 

Signs of toxic positivity

  • Masking your own feelings and feeling guilty for it
  • Minimizing other people’s feelings because of discomfort
  • People saying “Positive vibes only,” “Look on the bright side,” “Everything happens for a reason” after something really bad happens. While these statements usually come as well-intentioned and sympathetic, it can also be used as a way to brush off someone else’s pain
  • Trying to give more perspective to the matter instead of validating the emotional experience 
  • After expressing disappointment or sadness, when someone directly or indirectly suggests that your negative emotion was a choice not a circumstance. 
  • Shaming or chastising for expressing frustration or anything other than positivity.
  • Sometimes, social media enforces a 24/7 positive outlook. So people may hide their actual feelings behind feel-good quotes to be more acceptable.

These are some common forms of toxic positivity which you probably encountered in life. Unbeknownst to you, you probably have shown toxic positivity at some point in your life. Toxic positivity is putting the authentic emotional support people need to cope with their negative feelings under the rug.

Why is toxic positivity bad?

Putting on an optimistic façade or forcing someone to put it on actually does more harm than good. It encourages a person to keep quiet about their struggles. People may equate expressing frustrations to being negative or ungrateful in general. So when it comes down to choosing between being honest and pretending like nothing happened, you may end up choosing the latter. This shame stems from the toxic positive notion that you are solely responsible for your pain. This leads to stress which may further lead to physical stress. 

Toxic positivity is like an avoidance mechanism. It allows people behaving like this to avoid uncomfortable emotional situations of others. We as humans are never ready to immediately confront difficult emotions. So we initially brush them off by saying “it is what it is.” But if this denial goes too far or not encountered then we start internalizing toxic positivity and turn it on others.  

Toxic positivity, be it internalized or projected, prevents us to do the most responsible thing; turning the pain into power. It dismisses us from facing the difficult feelings that ultimately lead to growth and better perspectives. 

We’re all aware of chaos the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has created and is still creating. To name a few, people got sick, lost loved ones, lost jobs and businesses, financially struggled, faced challenges of work-from-home and homeschool, et cetera. Even then there are people who are chanting “positive vibes only” to people who don’t necessarily need it. Besides such serious disruptions in life, there is also a pressure to stay positive and productive which may end up being difficult. While it’s possible to remain optimistic during such trying times, it’s wrong to judge people for not maintaining a wholesome persona. 

So does this imply positivity is bad in general? No, absolutely not. It never tells you ignore the difficulties you face but rather acknowledge and work on it with an open mind. While it’s important you experience both positives and negatives, the ratio has to be in favor in of positives. Resisting negativity is necessary for sound mental health but it shouldn’t imply to being in denial and without empathy. 

How can you tackle toxic positivity?

Now, if you’ve experienced the toxic positivity of someone else or noticed the signs in yourself, what can you do about it? Let’s look at some ways

  • Human emotions are valid and important. So when someone expresses a difficult situation, listen to them patiently and offer your support. Don’t shut them out with the “positive vibes only” mantra.
  • Learn how to feel your feelings. It’s not right to react immediately on every emotion you feel. Sometimes it’s best to sit down, process the feelings and then take action.
  • Learn how to manage your negative emotions but don’t be in full denial. Negative emotions unchecked can be stressful. But it can sometimes give insights which leads to a brighter future.
  • There’s no harm in feeling uncomfortable in a stressful situation. Focus on taking steps to improve your situation.
  • It’s alright to have contrasting feelings over a situation. During a challenge, feeling both nervous and hopeful about the outcome at the same time is fine. Emotions are always complex.
  • If you’re following “positive” social media accounts, be careful about how you view and interact with the content. Internalized toxic positivity might end up making you feel guilty about seeing well-intentioned “inspiring” posts. In that case, consider unfollowing those accounts or limit social media consumption. 

A coin has two sides. Similarly, everything has two sides and that includes positivity too. While it’s important to have a generally positive outlook in life, you also have to recognize the negatives and work on it. Toxic positivity tends to be subtle and we’ve been toxic positive at some point in our life. Learning how to recognize it will help you give and receive authentic support when you’re going through something hard. So you should start noticing toxic positive statements and strive to let yourself and others feel all your emotions.