Toxic positivity is incredibly damaging to your mental health when it’s happening around you. The detrimental effects are why learning how to identify toxic positivity can help you protect yourself. We encourage you to delve into how to identify and avoid toxic positivity so that you can maintain your mental health.

You never want to feel like your experiences are minimized, nor do you want to have to pretend you feel a certain way to make other people feel comfortable.

Some real risks and dangers come with toxic positivity, and this can be especially true if you’re dealing with mental health issues or are in addiction recovery.

 

Understanding Toxic Positivity

Being positive can be a great thing in appropriate situations. So how do we know when it becomes toxic or harmful?

  • For many of us, it’s almost counterintuitive to hear the words “toxic” and “positivity” used together. For decades, the media, books, movies, and New Age thinking have led us to believe that positive thinking is most important.
  • Positive thinking can indeed improve your mental health. For example, when you think positively about the world, it can help improve your self-esteem and reduce suicidal thoughts.
  • At the same time, we have to understand that positive thinking isn’t a cure for everything, nor does it solve all of your challenges. 
  • You also aren’t always going to experience positive emotions. 
  • That doesn’t mean we can’t be overall positive people, but we need an authentic experience and the opportunity to recognize negative experiences and bad emotions. 

When positivity becomes toxic, there’s a demand placed on you to resort to that as the solution to every problem. You feel backed into a positivity corner where you can’t think negatively or express negative emotions. Even so, negative emotions are a genuine part of who we are and the human experience. 

Positive thinking means that you try to have an optimistic outlook on life. Positive thinking crosses into the realm of toxicity when you are silencing your real feelings or when you aren’t seeking help or support for difficult emotions. 

 

Is It Bad to Be Negative?

It’s so ingrained in us, particularly as women, to avoid being negative or having negative feelings at all costs. We’re supposed to put on a happy face no matter the situation or what we’re experiencing. That’s how we make the people around us feel comfortable, and we learn that by putting on that happy face, we’re essentially faking it until we make it.

  • That can be harmful because we are humans with a complex range of emotions. 
  • Being comfortable with uncomfortable feelings or challenging situations is vital for our mental health and well-being. For example, if you’re experiencing sadness because of grief, that’s normal and healthy. 
  • Toxic positivity might push you to try and conceal your grief and sadness, which can lead you to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms.

There are times when we need to talk about our human emotions and express them to work through them effectively. 

  • Research finds that vocalizing what we’re sometimes feeling like part of our inevitably imperfect life makes our unpleasant feelings less powerful. 
  • You can feel less trapped by your emotional experience when you speak about them.
  • Researchers also find that talking about all your true feelings, including the negative ones, can help your brain process what you’re feeling. 
  • In one study, labeling and talking about emotions reduced the pathways in the brain associated with them. That reduction of the brain pathways helps make painful or unpleasant emotions less overpowering than emotional suppression, which may have the opposite effect. 

While positivity and changing your mindset can be fantastic for your psychological health, there’s an extreme happening with toxic positivity.

 

 

What Are the Risks of Toxic Positivity?

There is actual harm that can happen when positivity goes overboard.

For example, it’s shaming. When you’re going through complicated feelings, you need your emotions validated. You need to be able to turn to the people you love and who love you for support. When you find that you’re being told your feelings aren’t valid, then you’re simultaneously being told that they aren’t acceptable. 

That creates shame. Shame can worsen negative cycles and patterns in your life.

  • You may experience feelings of loneliness or feelings of sadness when you’re surrounded by toxic positivity. 
  • Another harm of too much positivity is that it creates guilt. The idea becomes that if you can’t feel good and positive, no matter what’s happening around you, you aren’t doing something right.
  • Toxic positivity becomes an avoidance strategy and an example of an unhealthy coping mechanism. You aren’t facing your emotions, but you’re instead internalizing them and dealing with the fallout of repressed emotions. 

When you can’t confront challenges or authentic emotions, you’re stunting your spiritual and emotional growth.

 

Toxic Positive Examples

Some of the specific things you might see that indicate an issue with positivity include:

  • When you speak about how you feel, someone tells you it could be worse.
  • You’re told at least you’re lucky you have what you do.
  • Someone tells you to focus on the positive after you experience something traumatic.
  • Being told everything happens for a reason.
  • Calling those people who always appear happy or positive as brave or strong.

Signs that you might be engaging in the positivity that’s toxic include:

  • You prefer to avoid your problems.
  • You feel guilty when you experience negative emotions like sadness.
  • Regularly sharing feel-good quotes and mantras to appear more socially acceptable.
  • Minimize your own and other people’s feelings because they’re uncomfortable with you.
  • Feeling like being emotionally strong no matter what is something to be proud of.

 

How to Avoid Toxic Positivity

Whether you recognize certain behaviors in yourself, or you’ve experienced them through your interactions with others, remember the following:

  • Work on managing rather than denying negative feelings and emotions. No, learning how to avoid toxic positivity doesn’t mean you dwell on negative things, but you should recognize what you’re feeling, label it and then move on from there.
  • Be realistic about what you should feel, and work to identify what a typical timeframe is to feel certain things. For example, if you lose a loved one, it’s perfectly normal to work through a rather lengthy period of grief.
  • You can feel multiple things at one time. For example, sometimes negative feelings like anxiety or apprehension can occur with something great in life, like a new opportunity. We’re complex, and so are our feelings, and we don’t have to be boxed into one emotion.
  • If someone comes to you and wants to share something difficult for them, while you may be trying to help with your best intentions, don’t try to tell them that it’s all going to be okay, or they should look for the silver lining. Instead, be a sympathetic listener.

Finally, be mindful of how you’re feeling, especially when you’re engaging with inspirational content. Instagram is notorious for being a platform for toxic positivity. 

Sometimes, we can see this content as being motivational and uplifting, which is great.

You do need to hone in on what you feel after you view this content, however. Are you feeling guilty or ashamed, for example? If so, you might need to reconsider following that account or maybe limit your social media consumption in general.

The idea of toxic positivity is never to discount the value of a positive outlook or thinking. Instead, we must learn that it’s okay to feel even complex emotions, which are real, valid experiences. If you’re looking for more support and the right kind of positivity to help you with your recovery, call 866-600-7709 and contact the team at Anchored Tides Recovery. Take the first steps towards your new life. 

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