Health and well-being

Toxic positivity: can you be too positive?

4 min

“Don’t worry, be happy”, “Find the silver lining”, “Positive vibes only”, “Look on the bright side”.

There seems to be a persuasive tendency to think positively, which has been drastically growing with social media. While positivity is far from being a bad thing, it may become toxic and harmful if we let it overwhelm us and leave no room for other emotions.

What is toxic positivity?

Toxic positivity is a concept, an attitude that promotes the idea that we should be happy all the time, optimistic and living ‘our best life’, to the point of denying and ignoring negative feelings and difficult or stressful experiences. While this may seem beneficial on the surface, taken to extremes, such a mindset can actually be harmful in the long term.

Examples of toxic positivity

  • Hiding how we really feel, from ourselves and from others.
  • Rejecting negative emotions and/or feeling guilty and ashamed for having them.
  • Ignoring difficult situations and taking no action to resolve them.
  • Presenting only a carefully curated, happy and fulfilled version of our life to the outside world.
  • Minimising other people’s experiences by saying things like “don’t think about it” or “don’t worry so much” - lending more importance to our discomfort with negative emotions than the other person’s feelings.
  • Telling someone that their situation could be worse, and inadvertently making them feel bad for feeling the way they do.
  • Pushing people to thrive and always find the silver lining, whatever adversity they may be facing.

Risks and red flags related to toxic positivity

Going through a rough patch or simply feeling a bit down? It happens, and it’s absolutely OK. Accepting and processing negative emotions is key to emotional well-being and psychological resilience. It helps us deal with changes in a sound and healthy way. In fact, research suggests that emotional validation - which is the act of rejecting or minimising negative emotions - can increase the likelihood of developing symptoms of depression and other mental health problems!

Here are other issues that may be caused by extreme positivity:

  • It prevents us from understanding and dealing with true emotions.
  • It leads to the repression of emotions, which can hinder our ability to effectively manage feelings.
  • Undermines psychological flexibility - the ability to tolerate difficult and uncomfortable thoughts and emotions (which is necessary for emotional stability).
  • Can lead to communication issues and reduce our ability to resolve conflicts.

Extreme positivity can also have an impact on the people around us. Over-optimism can hinder our ability to build authentic and meaningful relationships. When people are unable to express or share their struggles, challenges and negative feelings, it can create a sense of isolation and that their experiences are not valid or important. It can also lead to a decrease in compassion and empathy in our relationships, as difficult emotions are often the ones that allow us to connect and support others in a meaningful way.

How to avoid toxic positivity

Do you think you have a proclivity for toxic positivity? Take this quiz to find out.

To counteract toxic positivity, a more balanced and nuanced approach to managing emotions is recommended. This involves recognising and accepting all emotions, practising self-compassion and seeking support when facing difficulties. Ultimately, a balance between positivity and accepting negative emotions can lead to better mental health and deeper, more authentic and supportive relationships.

Some examples of statements to counter extreme optimism: 

Positive thinking is not inherently bad. Optimism and a positive outlook on life can be powerful tools in overcoming challenges and improving well-being. However, accepting and dealing with negative emotions is just as important. These feelings are normal and valid in many of life's circumstances. 

All emotions, both positive and negative, are indicators of the experiences we have had and can provide us with valuable information about our needs and limitations. 

Are you having trouble finding a balance between your emotions, or would you like more tips on how to avoid falling prey to toxic positivity? Remember that with the Bonjour-santé membership, members have unlimited access to our team of mental health nurses by e-consult to discuss, and receive information and advice. Login to your account to take advantage of this service and many other health services, or become a member.

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