How to Deal with (or Avoid) Toxic Positivity

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Some people never seem to have a bad day. No matter what goes wrong in their lives, they’re always cheerful and optimistic.

On the surface, this might seem like a good thing. After all, positivity is generally better than negativity, right? Well, it's not so simple. I know people who committed suicide to the shock of those who knew them. The obvious signs of unhappiness were sometimes masked by their forced positivity.

Positivity is great, but there's such a thing as too much of a good thing. When positivity is forced, when it's used to mask negative emotions, and when it's used to avoid dealing with problems, it becomes toxic.

What is Toxic Positivity?

Toxic positivity is the excessive and relentless promotion of positive thinking and happy moods, often to the point of denying or ignoring negative or painful emotions.

In a previous article, we talked about 14 Toxic Positivity Examples including:

Laughing when someone is hurt or in pain

This is not the same as nervous laughter. This is the laughter that comes from a place of genuine amusement at someone else's misfortune. It's the kind of laughter that says, “Can you believe this happened to you? Isn't it funny?” 

Saying things like “Everything happens for a reason”

This phrase is often used to brush off painful experiences or to try to make someone feel better by suggesting that there's a greater purpose to their suffering. Someone even said this to me after several important things were stolen from my house. I'm still waiting to find out what the “reason” was.

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When positivity is forced, when it's used to mask negative emotions, and when it's used to avoid dealing with problems, it becomes toxic.

But the reality is that not everything happens for a reason. Sometimes, bad things just happen, and there's no silver lining to be found.

Only posting ideal photos on social media

We now live in a society where many work overtime to curate a perfect image of their lives online. From relationships, vacations, work achievements, and more, social media has become a highlight reel of people's lives.

And while there's nothing wrong with sharing the good moments, the problem arises when that's all we ever see. When we only ever see the best of someone, it can give us an unrealistic and idealized view of their life – and that can be damaging.

Pretending to be happy all the time

Pretending to be happy – or worse, pretending to be happy all the time – is not only exhausting, but it's also harmful. When we repress our negative emotions, they don't just go away. They find a way to come out, often in destructive ways.

Harmful Ramifications of Toxic Positivity on a Person

Toxic positivity can have harmful ramifications on a person's mental and emotional health. Here are some of the ways it can manifest:

Invalidates People's Feelings

When someone is only ever told to focus on the positive, their negative emotions are invalidated. This can lead to them feeling like they're not allowed to feel sad, angry, or anything other than happy.

Constantly feeling invalidated may lead someone to find validation in a negative source, such as drugs, alcohol, or an abusive relationship.

Causes Emotional Suppression

Toxic positivity often leads to emotional suppression. When we're told to just “be positive,” we stuff down our negative emotions instead of dealing with them.

This can lead to emotional outbursts later on, as well as depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, those emotional outbursts may happen at the most inopportune times, such as at work or in a relationship.

Promotes an Unhealthy View of Happiness

When we're only ever exposed to the positive, it gives us an unrealistic and unhealthy view of happiness. We start to believe that happiness is something that can be achieved and maintained all the time, which is simply not true.

It's important to remember that happiness is not a destination. It's a journey with ups and downs – and that's okay.

Leads to Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

When we're not allowed to feel negative emotions, we often turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms to numb the pain. This can include substance abuse, disordered eating, self-harm, and more.

How To Deal with Toxic Positivity

Now that we have a clearer understanding of toxic positivity and how it can impact our lives, let's take a look at some ways we can deal with or avoid it.

1. Acknowledge Negative Emotions

The first step to dealing with toxic positivity is to acknowledge your negative emotions. This may seem like a counter-intuitive approach, but it's important to remember that our negative emotions are valid.

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Positivity is great, but there's such a thing as too much of a good thing.

Try keeping a journal about how you are REALLY feeling that day and allow yourself to process those emotions in a healthy way. Think about what, why, and how you are feeling to start to work through those emotions. Make note of the things that trigger you and try to avoid them if possible.

When dealing with someone else who appears to be using toxic positivity, you may tell them it’s okay to feel that way and offer a listening ear if they need it.

2. Talk to Someone You Trust

If you're feeling overwhelmed by negative emotions, it's important to talk to someone you trust. This could be a friend, family member, therapist, or anyone else who will listen and support you.

Verbally processing your emotions can help you to understand and work faster. It can also be helpful to have someone else's perspective on the situation.

If you're worried about talking to someone about your emotions, try writing them down first. This can help to get your thoughts and feelings out without feeling so vulnerable. Set up a meeting and bring your list with you to help guide the conversation.

3. Lean into Discomfort

Toxic positivity often leads us to believe that we should avoid discomfort at all costs. However, this isn't healthy or realistic. Discomfort is a natural part of life, and we need to learn how to deal with it.

One way to do this is to “lean into” your discomfort. This means that instead of trying to push away the negative emotions, you acknowledge them and allow yourself to feel them. This doesn't mean wallowing in your misery, but rather accepting that the emotions are there and that it's okay to feel them.

Try to sit with the discomfort for a little while and see what happens. You may find that it's not as bad as you thought it was and that you can actually handle it. If the discomfort is too much, you can always take a break or step away from the situation.

4. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment and accepting things as they are. This can be a helpful way to deal with toxic positivity because it allows you to focus on the here and now instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.

There are many ways to practice mindfulness, but one simple way is to focus on your breath. Try to pay attention to the way your chest rises and falls with each inhale and exhale. If your mind wanders, simply bring your attention back to your breath.

You can also try mindfulness meditation, which is a form of mindfulness that involves sitting quietly and focusing on your breath. There are many guided mindfulness meditation recordings available online or you can try it on your own.

5. Allow Yourself to Grieve

When someone we love dies, it's natural to feel a sense of loss and grief. However, toxic positivity can tell us that we shouldn't be grieving or that we should “get over it” as quickly as possible.

It's important to allow yourself to grieve in whatever way feels right for you. This may mean crying, staying in bed for days, or anything else that helps you to process your emotions. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, so do whatever you need to do to heal.

If you're having trouble grieving, try talking to someone who will understand and support you. You can also read books or articles about grief, which can help you to feel less alone.

Don't hesitate to go to a support group or seek professional help if you're struggling to cope.

6. Don't Comparison Shop Your Life

There is nothing wrong with having fun with social media. Just remember to understand the difference between what people share online and reality.

Comparison shopping your life is when you compare your behind-the-scenes reality to someone else's highlight reel. This can lead to feelings of envy, inadequacy, and general unhappiness.

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Acknowledge and channel your feelings into an activity instead of pretending they don't exist at all.

Try to focus on your own life and what you have to be grateful for. If you find yourself comparing your life to someone else's, take a break from social media or unfollow any accounts that make you feel bad about yourself.

7. Have Healthy Coping Mechanisms

When you are feeling down, mad, hurt, angry, and want to give up, it is vital to have some healthy coping mechanisms in place. This way you can avoid turning to toxic positivity or other unhealthy habits to help you cope. Some of the best healthy coping mechanisms include:

  • Exercise
  • Spending time in nature
  • Spending time with loved ones
  • Pets
  • Journaling
  • Meditation
  • Listening to music
  • Yoga
  • Reading
  • Creative outlets like painting or drawing

Acknowledge and channel your feelings into an activity instead of pretending they don't exist at all. Listening to music can be a great way to feel better. It can distract you from your thoughts and help you to relax. For example, when I am sad, I love listening to the 80s pop music I grew up with.

Yoga is another excellent coping mechanism as it can help to calm the mind and ease anxiety. If you don't have time for a full yoga class, there are many short yoga videos available online. Sometimes a simple walk when upset can clear your head and put you in the space to come back to speak to someone about what made you feel bad.

A good book is a nice way to escape from reality for a little while. You can also use some self-help books about toxic relationships as part of your healing process.

Final Thoughts About Dealing with or Avoiding Toxic Positivity

If you find yourself surrounded by toxic positivity, it's important to take steps to protect yourself. This may mean setting boundaries with family and friends, unfollowing negative people on social media, or anything else that helps you to create a more positive and healthier environment.

It's also important to remember that you don't have to be positive all the time. It's normal to feel sad, angry, or upset at times and that's okay. Don't hesitate to reach out for help if you're struggling to cope with your emotions. Are you looking for more ways to avoid toxic behavior? Check out the article, 101 Toxic People Quotes to Stay Away from Negativity.

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