Toxic Positivity: What It Is And How To Combat It
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Toxic Positivity: What It Is And How To Combat It

Becky Milligan May 30, 2022

We’ve all been told to find the good in a bad situation at some point. While it can be helpful to approach difficult situations with optimism, and to try change our perspectives when we’re feeling negative, this can be taken too far. It can progress into an obsession that results in all negative feelings being dismissed, or even ignored entirely. This is known as toxic positivity.

What is toxic positivity?

Toxic positivity is a dysfunctional emotional state in which every situation, especially negative ones, are approached with excessive positivity. Any potential feelings of negativity are not acknowledged.

Research has found that over 75% of people admit to ignoring their negative emotions to seem happier. Besides this, over 67% of people said they had toxic positivity directed towards them in the previous week. Despite the high percentages of people having experienced toxic positivity, only 25% of people said they had heard of it before. This indicates the relevance toxic positivity has on the majority of people without releasing they’re being positively toxic.

How does toxic positivity affect us?

Being treated with toxic positivity may result in genuine negative emotions being dismissed. It may make you feel inclined to be positive all the time, even when something bad happens.

Undoubtedly, dismissing and ignoring your negative emotions can make you feel emotionally and mentally exhausted. Negative emotions don’t disappear when we ignore them, they tend to bottle up inside us instead. This can lead to a massive outburst of emotions later on.

Furthermore, treating others who open up to you about their negative emotions with toxic positivity can make you seem insensitive. Others will not feel heard, and they may not come to you for support in the future.

Common positively toxic phrases

Positively toxic phrases are not always immediately noticeable because they cloak negativity with positivity. There are some very common phrases that you may have heard. You may even use them yourself without realising the positively toxic meaning behind them:

  • It will all be fine
  • It could be worse
  • You’ll get over it
  • Everything happens for a reason
  • Look for the silver lining
  • Stop being so negative

Turning toxic positivity into validation and support

Toxic positivity can be more hurtful than it can be helpful. The main way to combat toxic positivity is to change the way we approach negative situations. Instead of trying to be positive and dismiss all negative emotions, we should make an effort to acknowledge negative emotions, both within ourselves and within others.

Acknowledging negative emotions is a healthier way to deal with them and makes it easier for us to understand what, when and why we have these emotions. We can do this by validating ours and others’ negative emotions, reminding ourselves and others that our emotions are real and valid.

Supporting others through negative emotions also helps them to feel acknowledged and validated, even when they’re experiencing negative thoughts and emotions.

Here are some helpful phrases to help validate and support yourself and others. Try using these instead of positively toxic phrases when you notice yourself feeling negative or when others express negative emotions to you:

  • I’m here for you, no matter what
  • I can hear that things are hard for you right now. How can I support you?
  • It is ok to feel bad sometimes
  • Your feelings of … are valid
  • Do you want to talk about it? I’m here to listen to you
  • You are so resilient. I believe in you and you have the strength to get through this
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

The takeaway message

Toxic positivity is harmful for our emotional wellbeing in the long-run. Recognising toxic positivity and the harm it can do is the first step to combatting it. We should try to acknowledge negative emotions when they arise within us or others, even though it can be difficult. Remember, you are human, and all humans have emotions, positive and negative. Your emotions are valid, and letting yourself feel your emotions doesn’t make you weak.

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Becky Milligan is a Freelance Writer for Freshered and a Lead Generator for PROP by GRV Media. The main focus of her articles is mental health, as she strongly believes in reducing the stigma surrounding mental health for university students through education. She also shares stories about her personal university experiences and gives advice for university living. She currently studies Psychology at the University of Sussex and volunteers for Shout 85258. She is an avid animal lover, with two rescue cats called Smudge and Oreo, and she loves to dance and sing in her free time.