Toxic Positivity: Why It’s OK to Not Be OK

7 minutes read

You have probably heard that positive people live longer and healthier lives. However, there is such a thing as toxic positivity.

Living a positive life is not inherently bad. Putting an optimistic spin on ordinary problems, like getting stuck in traffic or having to work late, can help you live a calmer, happier life. However, constantly ignoring feelings of stress, sadness, and anger can be harmful.

What Is Toxic Positivity?

While embracing positivity is generally a good way to approach each day, it is not a rule you must follow. Life is a roller coaster of positive and negative events, and treating each with corresponding emotions is all right.

Americans live increasingly independent lives without family and community support, contrary to some other cultures. We often turn to social media, where people film, post photos and talk about the good things that happen in their lives and how important it is to stay strong and remain positive. However, they often don’t post moments of vulnerability where their negative emotions take hold and they need mental or physical support. The same goes for friends, family members, or co-workers who only want to brag about their positive experiences.

When you see or hear people talk about their “wonderful” lives, it is easy to feel like something is wrong with yours because you are not always happy or satisfied. You might try to live a similar lifestyle, pushing aside any feelings of stress or unhappiness.

Examples of Toxic Positivity

Toxic positivity is not just something you develop; the people and environment around you can push it on you. Here are some common signs:

  • Avoiding negative topics: When you or someone around you exhibits toxic positivity, it might be because they do not want to face the difficult parts of life. Avoiding negative topics and emotions might be OK initially, but always doing so can lead to a worse situation.
  • Forcing a positive work environment: Company cultures that push positivity are often the result of bosses not wanting to value employee complaints. They may present unpaid overtime as “valuable experience” or an unfair promotion as “saving you for a future opportunity.”
  • Facing overly positive commentary: You might have heard “Everything happens for a reason” or “Look on the bright side.” While these phrases are sometimes fine, hearing them repeatedly can invalidate your negative experience and make you feel crazy for having natural emotions.

Why Toxic Positivity Is Harmful

Living in toxic positivity doesn’t just change your state of mind. It can also damage your mental and physical health.

1. You Bury Your Emotions

When you constantly force your mind to stay positive, you suppress other natural emotions.

Research shows that bottling up your feelings can cause physical stress. You could experience an increased risk of heart disease or diabetes. Your risk of mental health conditions also increases. Anxiety disorders, depression, and addiction are potential outcomes.

To stay healthy, you need to feel and process your emotions in a safe space, not hide them from the world and yourself.

2. You Take More Risks

Humans evolved to have fear and stress to avoid dangerous situations. Just because you see someone else conquer something does not mean you should also try it.

Though you do not need to be over-anxious, it is important to trust science and your instincts instead of assuming everything will work out. Heed your emotions and conduct research. Weigh the pros and cons of completing anything you need clarification on.

3. You Don’t Seek Care

Without acknowledging your instincts and emotions, you might not go to the doctor for pain or talk to a therapist or psychiatrist about concerning thoughts or feelings that seem out of place.

You should never ignore your health and well-being due to a positive philosophy.

4. You Emotionally Isolate

An “everything happens for a reason” attitude can invalidate your and others’ challenging or traumatic experiences. Unfair and unjust situations happen, and not acknowledging it will hurt you and possibly others.

5. You Pass It to Others

Living with toxic positivity can spread your negative habits to your friends, family, and co-workers. They might feel pressure to live as they are, not realizing it is unhealthy.

6. Your Emotions Are Invalidated

You might not feel like you can express genuine concern about your workplace without being told you’re not a team player. You and your co-workers might hesitate to get to know each other well since you always put on a happy face.

You will likely resent your bosses and co-workers who push positivity and happiness every single day.

7. It Creates Barriers

Invalidating your emotions might make you feel like you can’t really talk to the people who mean the most to you. You create barriers about what you can and cannot say, which can cause strain in your relationships.

8. You Feel Alone


Hardly anything makes you feel more alone than when your family and friends do not show they understand you. When the people you love most try to push you to be positive, it looks like your true feelings do not matter to them, invalidating your emotions.

What You Can Do

People who feel trapped in toxic positivity can take steps to break that cycle and live a healthy and authentically happy life.

1. Feel All Your Emotions

You do not have to dwell on negative emotions, but experiencing and processing them is important. No feeling is wrong, and sometimes they can’t be controlled. There is a difference between how you think and how you choose to respond.

Processing emotions frees you from storing them until your body forces you to address them.

2. Seek Justice

When you experience something wrong in your life or society, use the negative feelings to fuel you to do something good. Advocating for positive change can improve your life and the lives of others. Feeling sad or angry about something can be an excellent motivator for taking action.

3. Be Honest About Your Struggles

It is important to own all your emotions. Talk to someone you trust if they do not match how you want to feel.

You do not deserve to suffer in silence. Mental health is as important as physical health; you should treat both equally. Working with a psychiatrist, counselor, or therapist can help you get to a better place.

4. How to Avoid and Cope with Toxic Positivity

Feeling anxious, angry, or sad can be challenging, especially around people who live in toxic positivity. Use these coping strategies to help you healthily feel your emotions:

  • Meditation: This learned skill focuses on calming the mind and body. There are many free resources online that can help you get started.
  • Journaling: Writing down your thoughts and feelings in a journal, notebook, phone, or scrap piece of paper can help you release some of them quickly. You can then review what you wrote in a safe place to finish processing the emotions and observe how you feel in different situations.
  • Grounding: Performing a grounding exercise can help you feel calm when things seem overwhelming. Going outside into nature and focusing on your senses can help regulate your emotions and decrease feelings of depression.
  • Walking away: Walking away for a few minutes to breathe and regulate your emotions can help you cope with stressful situations if you feel overwhelmed.

Toxic positivity means well but can adversely affect you and the people around you. Feeling all your emotions, respecting their purpose, and seeking help if something is wrong will let you handle all situations healthily.

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