Can positivity be a bad thing?

The phrase “toxic positivity” refers to the idea that having a positive attitude and “good vibes only” is the best way to live. It tells us that negative emotions are bad, and expressing feelings such as sadness, anger and disappointment makes us weak or not fun to be around.

But no one feels happy all the time, and ups and downs are a normal part of life. Suppressing negative emotions can cause more psychological harm, and can even lead to mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

We hope these tips help you avoid toxic positivity and be more compassionate to yourself and others.

 

What to avoid

Here are some examples of toxic positivity that can alienate people who might be having a hard time, and make you seem unrelatable and unapproachable.

Dismissing someone’s feelings

Say your friend tells you they’ve had a bad day at work, they’re having relationship problems, or they’re simply in a bad headspace at the moment. This is not your cue to be a cheerleader and try to make them feel better with phrases like: “Look on the bright side”, “It could be worse”, or “There’s nothing to be worried about”.

These responses tell your friend their feelings aren’t acceptable or justified. This doesn’t help them feel better – in fact, it can make them feel even worse. It can also prevent them from coming to you when they have issues in the future.

Shaming someone for bringing down the mood

Similarly, you shouldn’t make someone feel like they’re not fun to be around or don’t deserve your time unless they’re in a good mood and a positive headspace.

Judging someone for expressing their negative feelings by calling them a “Debbie Downer” or telling them not to “kill your vibe” can make that person feel shame around their (very normal) negative emotions. They should feel welcome and supported no matter their mood.

Avoiding your own negative feelings

Do you act happy and positive even when you’re not feeling that way on the inside? Maybe you want to maintain the image of a fun and cheerful person, or maybe you’re worried your negative emotions will annoy or inconvenience the people around you.

Avoiding or minimising your negative emotions can breed shame and self-esteem issues, as well as mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

 

What to do instead

Here are some ways to overcome toxic positivity and deal with unpleasant emotions in a healthier way.

Validate others’ feelings

We all have the right to feel how we feel. It can help to hear that it’s OK and normal to feel these things instead of being told to get over it or to be optimistic. A little empathy and understanding goes a long way.

Try:

  • “That must be really difficult for you.”
  • “It sounds like you’re having a really hard time.”
  • “I’m sorry you’re dealing with that right now.”
  • “You’re really strong for getting through that.”
  • “How we can make things better?”

Tune into your own feelings

Our emotions are important. They tell us information about ourselves and help us be mindful in the present moment. Negative emotions are completely normal, and it’s healthy to acknowledge and process them in order to heal and grow.

Check in with yourself to see how you’re feeling and why. It might be a cue that you need to make some changes in your life. Or maybe you just need to take a day to rest and recuperate. Have some self-compassion and don’t judge yourself for feeling the way you do or try to mask it with fake positivity.

Remember most of what you see online is a highlight reel

People often only post positive stuff on social media. Scrolling through endless images of big smiles, good times, and inspirational quotes can make us feel bad about ourselves if we’re not in the same headspace. But the fact is everyone has bad days and gets down in the dumps – we just don’t share those times online!

If social media makes you feel pressured to be optimistic and gratefull all the time, it might be worth taking a break or unfollowing certain accounts.

We talk about how social media can cause anxiety in this blog post.

 

If you’re having a hard time coping with unpleasant emotions, counselling can be a great way to explore how you’re feeling and come up with solutions. You can call 1300 364 277 to book a counselling appointment in person, over the phone, or via Zoom video chat.