Mindset, self care

Toxic Positivity vs Helpful Positivity

Ever tried forcing yourself to be positive when you feel the exact opposite? Or encouraged a friend to see the bright side of life when they’re feeling down? We’re all guilty of it, but the more awareness we have of toxic positivity – the better. I’m always talking about the power of positive thinking and mindset, so I felt the need to dedicate a post to toxic positivity, something I’m seeing more and more recently. Being able to see the bright side of life and stay optimistic has a massive impact on how you live day to day, it’s a huge positive. However, a caveat to that is when positive thinking and ‘positive vibes only’ is used as a distraction from your true feelings and emotions.

it’s ok, and important to feel more difficult emotions

What is toxic positivity?

Toxic positivity is simple. It’s using the notion of ‘positive thinking’ to suppress feelings you associate with negativity, and not truly facing how you think and feel. The problem is, if there’s something that’s seriously bothering you and it’s not addressed, it doesn’t just go away. The human experience isn’t just made up of moments that spark joy. By avoiding every emotion except trying to think positive you repress how you really feel which can make it hard to move forward.

Accepting ‘negative’ emotions can feel difficult, but it helps with coping and how intense the emotions feel (there’s actually research behind this!). It’s that feeling of getting something off your chest, and the feeling of relief when you’ve had time to process how you feel. Optimism can be present at the same time as ‘negative’ emotions, so by accepting how you feel you’re not taking steps back, but learning to understand yourself more.

I’ve applied toxic positivity to my own life in the past, thinking I needed to be positive all of the time for a more joyful life. I’d go as far as saying the opposite is true. I was practising emotional avoidance. Healing requires you to experience all of your emotions as they are (as difficult as that is). By forcing positivity, it’s hard to move forward and truly grow.

Signs of toxic positivity and what to look out for

It’s a pressure you can put on yourself and experience from others. To give you an example, it’s saying things like ‘no excuses’, ‘just think positively’ and ‘you’ll be stronger for it’. Really, on the surface they’re not toxic, but it’s the context of these phrases and why, when and who they are used with. One thing they all have in common is that they can be dismissive of how someone really feels. They are barriers to someone speaking out about their true emotions.

Positivity becomes toxic when it minimises a real problem

Helpful things to say instead…

Whether you’re chatting with a friend or find yourself forcing positive thoughts, here’s a few things to say instead…

‘all of your feelings are valid’ ‘that sounds really difficult’ ‘this is really hard, I’m here for you’

I don’t know about you, but comparing them to the other statements puts me at ease. They’re more understanding, less judgemental and offer support.

Yes positive thinking and optimism are important, but we’re human, and it’s not realistic or normal to be positive all the time.


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    October 24, 2020Reply

    This is such a great blog post, I think everybody should see this!

    Danielle xx

    Gabriel Flores

    September 19, 2022Reply

    I really don’t get this stuff. I don’t see how being and staying positive is a bad thing? Why waste time dwelling on sad things? We get to choose how we let things affect us, why would we choose to let something bring us down rather then make the best of it? It makes no sense to me, I have a girlfriend who will let her entire day be ruined because something a customer said to her(works at Starbucks). Or because we booked a hotel for a certain room and we get there and that room isn’t available so we get downgraded for example. I tell her “let’s make the best of it” “look at the bright side, this room won’t cost as much” or “stay positive don’t let them bring you down”. This type of behavior is CONSTANT with her, everyday it’s negativity from the start, “I woke up later then I wanted to, now my day is ruined”. To me it’s an absolute complete waste of time to spend any amount of time feeling sad about this stuff. Make the best of the situation, the vacation could still be awesome in the less fancy room, what your customer said shouldn’t matter, they’re only words. Had they told you the same words in another language it wouldnt have bothered you . They hold no power whatso ever. Sure you woke up an hour late, but stay positive and just make the best of the time you have and try harder to wake up on time tomorrow. If her dad was to pass away I wouldn’t tell her to look at the bright side, when something bad happens I’m not gonna tell her to be fine. But she has a great life like for real, she’s very lucky but some days she says she hates her life and I tell her it could be worse and to think positive. Cuz really, why waste time being nagative and feeling sad when we have the voice to be ok?? Now she’s coming at me with this toxic positivity bs telling me like I’m screwing her up because I’m a very positive person. When she’s sad over stupid sh*t I want her to choose to be happy cuz she can, and she’ll bring us both down. It gets incredibly frustrating when all she says or sees is negativity when they’re still so much good to a situation. Tell me how I’m in the wrong? Cuz according to her and her therapist I’m the devil cuz I tell her to be positive.

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