Positivity and optimism are commonly seen as valuable to one’s mental health and well-being. However, experiencing negative emotions and responding to a negative situation is completely natural. On social media, it is common to see quotes that encourage one to choose happiness (as if someone is unhappy by choice). Though they mean well, positive comments are not always the way to go.
What is toxic positivity?
Toxic positivity is the belief that one must keep a positive attitude through every situation they encounter, regardless of the severity of suffering endured. This way of thinking demands that someone repress their negative thoughts and focus on positive emotions exclusively. Positivity, when made the default state of mind can become toxic because it denies people the ability to express any other emotion besides happiness.
Why is toxic positivity bad?
Toxic positivity can be harmful for several reasons. First, it invalidates someone’s feelings as being an active choice to endure negative emotions. People do not get to choose what does and does not happen in their lives. Using phrases like “everything happens for a reason” when trying to comfort someone can be damaging. It insinuates they must accept all situations as meant to be and not be sad when things don’t go their way. When bad things happen, it is natural to react with negative emotions. It is not fair to assume that someone who is going through a bad situation is choosing to be unhappy.
Additionally, toxic positivity can cause someone to feel guilt and shame. Telling someone that “someone out there has it worse” insinuates that they are wrong for feeling sadness and pain. This can cause someone to feel guilty that they are sad, especially when positivity emphasizes that others are going through worse situations. This same type of emphasis may cause people to feel ashamed that they’re reacting negatively to a situation that may seem minor compared to other issues. Shaming someone for expressing genuine emotion in response to an unpleasant situation can be more harmful than helpful.
At times it can be hard to find the right things to say to someone going through a tough time and remaining positive can be helpful. However, when it invalidates, diminishes, or dismisses someone’s feelings, it can result in greater sadness and lead to isolation. It is key to remember that all emotions are valid and acceptable.
Hi! My name is Jennifer, I am currently a UCSB student majoring in Psychological and Brain Sciences. I have been working as the Outreach Coordinator and Administrative Assistant at Acacia Isla Vista for almost two years. This year, I am also co-leading the IV Mental Health Advocate program. This has given me the opportunity to further advocate for mental health equity in the community. When I am not working or studying, I enjoy watching the sunset, hiking, and finding cool food spots!