Toxic positivity is super common, but despite having ‘positivity’ in it’s name, it can also be incredibly harmful. You may be guilty of it yourself, or you may have heard it from other people but chances are you’ve come across it, even if you didn’t recognise it!
Read on to find out what it is, how to avoid it, and how harmful it can be.
What is toxic positivity?
It has positivity in the name, it can’t be bad right? Not quite. For an in depth explanation check out this article from Healthline, but in short, it’s forced positivity that someone believes can overcome any obstacle.
If you struggle with depression, anxiety or trauma, I can nearly guarantee you’ve heard it before. Have you ever had someone tell you ‘it could be worse’ or ‘look on the bright side’ when you’re struggling? Did you want to slap them? That’s toxic positivity.
During my battle with depression, I have heard many variations of it. A lot of the people who said things like that had the best intentions, but unfortunately sometimes intent isn’t the same as impact.
So why is it so damaging?
Read on to find 5 ways toxic positivity is harmful, and how it affects your mental health:
Please note I am not a mental health professional and this article is written only from my own experience. If you are struggling please consult a professional, or check out our crisis resources here.
1. It causes shame
When you’re struggling with your mental health, or something is just not quite right, reaching out is hard. It takes a lot of strength for people to admit they’re not doing so well, humans are prideful creatures!
When you do reach out, being told that your struggles would disappear if you were more positive, is a punch in the gut. It will probably make you think twice about sharing your struggles again, which is dangerous. Mental illness thrives in the dark!
There is so much stigma around mental illness and toxic positivity amplifies it. Struggling is not a shameful thing! It’s also not your fault. You didn’t bring mental illness on yourself by being negative.
2. It’s invalidating
Even without the struggle of mental illness, life is never all sunshine and roses. Tough times are natural! Trying to force positivity all the time and never allowing yourself to see the negative side is not only exhausting, it’s invalidating to all the tough times you face.
A feeling or reaction being negative does not mean it isn’t valid. Anger or sadness is just as natural as happiness or joy! People have such a wide range of emotions because they all serve something.
For example, anger can be an outlet, as long as it’s channeled into something non destructive. So can crying! They are necessary emotions to release tension.
To say those feelings are ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ is to try and ignore half of your existence.
3. It’s dangerous
It’s so important to be able to recognise when there is negativity in your life. Our protective mechanisms against manipulation and abuse is the ability to recognise when something isn’t our fault.
By believing that a positive attitude is all you need in life, you’re putting the burden of all the circumstances you face on yourself. This can damage your self worth and allow you to accept behaviour you shouldn’t.
4. It can hold you back from healing
If your only plan for handling mental illness, or even just general life struggles is thinking positive, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
We are human. We need help sometimes, that’s ok! There is no shame in needing help. By focusing only on staying positive, you are discrediting the chance of anything else helping you!
5. It stunts you emotionally
Emotional maturity means knowing how to handle all of our emotions. If you never allow yourself to feel anything but positive feelings, you will never know how to handle the negative feelings.
This means that when they pop up or explode, you will be totally ill-equipped with how to handle them in a healthy way!
The bottom line of toxic positivity
I’m no negative Nancy, I know the importance of positive thinking, and it’s a powerful thing! In fact I’ve written an entire post about turning negative thoughts positive.
However, the power of positive thinking lies in knowing its limits, and the damage that toxic positivity can cause.
I was young when I first started battling with depression. Paired with my already low self worth, being told I just needed to be more positive destroyed me and probably set my treatment back years. It made me feel the need to bottle up all of my negative feelings, and of course, they eventually exploded.
It took me a long time after that to seek effective help and acknowledge the validity of my negative feelings. I’m strong enough now to roll my eyes when someone gives me useless platitudes, but I know there are people out there right now, putting themselves down for no good reason, and I want to stop that.
Just as you didn’t bring mental illness on yourself with negative thoughts, it cannot be resolved solely with positive thoughts. If you want to know how to support someone with depression, check out my article on it here!
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