“We are what we think.” This is a statement society has been told and it is true, we are all a product of what we think, how we view ourselves, and our life circumstances. To get out of hard situations, we must believe we can do so in the first place. Positivity and optimism have been credited with helping people live healthier lives, be more productive, and have better mental states. Toxic positivity, on the other hand, is another matter, entirely.

Positivity becomes toxic when it is expected to be the only emotion we feel or experience no matter what it is we are struggling with in the real world. In a world of constant positivity, it is imposed upon us to always look to the bright side. No matter how dire a situation is, we are encouraged to only feel happy and positive in all situations to the exclusion of all other emotions.

This unrealistic expectation backfires as people struggle to reconcile how they truly feel and what society is telling them they should feel.

Effects of toxic positivity

Everything should always be done in moderation. Positivity is not wrong; it only becomes toxic when people are instructed to live in a way that is contrary to their makeup. As human beings, we are designed to feel a whole range of emotions depending on the situation at hand. No emotions should be favored above others.

All emotions are data informing us of our internal processing and helping us decide how to act, this is for our survival. However, if we chose to ignore so-called negative emotions and only focus on the positive ones, below are some of the effects:

  • Lack of compassion or empathy for oneself or others.
  • Shame and guilt for feeling hurt, broken, grief, depression, etc.
  • Less resilient due to inability to face hard situations and emotions.
  • Invalidate our emotions and those of others if they are not positive.
  • Re-traumatizing because of not being given space to share hard situations.
  • Mental health issues because of not seeking help due to shame and guilt.
  • Suppression of emotions can lead to emotional burnout.
  • Stigma toward those struggling and thus not offering help when they need it most.
  • Inauthentic living because it is unrealistic to be happy, positive, and optimistic all the time.
  • Unhealthy coping mechanisms like taking drugs or alcohol to try and numb the feelings one feels they shouldn’t experience in the first place.
  • Gaslighting toward oneself or others occurs when we deny the reality of hard emotions even when they are appropriate, leading to being unsure about our own experiences and feelings.
  • Lack of growth and accountability occurs because of not addressing mistakes or failures honestly, but they are glossed over with positivity and hence never hold themselves accountable.

Our ability to live in a world that is sometimes painful, unpredictable, and harsh lies in our ability to face these realities honestly for us to be resilient and develop healthy coping mechanisms.

For us to show compassion and empathy toward ourselves and those around us, we must first acknowledge that good emotions also exist with hard emotions. Those hard emotions are not to be denied. It is said, if you bury an emotion, you bury it alive.

When to seek help

If any of the above feels familiar, if you are in a place where you have never known how to share your story authentically and evaluate your feelings freely without judgment do consider getting in touch with our offices. A counselor can provide a safe and free environment where you can be authentic and gain helpful tools to deal with any hard situation you might be facing.

“Smiley-face Balloons”, Courtesy of Tim Mossholder, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Balloon Lady”, Courtesy of Lidya Nada, Unsplash.com, CC0 License