The Horror Of Toxic Positivity: Why Positive Thinking Can Be Harmful

The Horror Of Toxic Positivity: Why Positive Thinking Can Be Harmful
The Horror Of Toxic Positivity: Why Positive Thinking Can Be Harmful
Toxic positivity vs support & validation

When you pretend to have “good vibes only”, you are denying yourself the authentic human experience. The unprocessed emotions that you deny to feel keep getting bigger as you look the other way. But the problem is this process is unsustainable. Sooner or later, you will crack and experience a rush of uncontrollable, unpleasant emotions.

As humans, we want to share all our emotions with our loved ones. We want to talk about our difficult emotions without worrying about being judged or feeling guilty. When you look at only the brighter side of life and fail to acknowledge what you are actually feeling, it is a toxic recipe for disaster. It is crucial that we look at all our emotions and validate our feelings. We need to tell ourselves it’s okay to not be okay.

Identifying toxic positivity

“Everything is toxic. That’s the point. You can’t avoid toxins. Thinking you can is just another symptom of the toxic overload stage.” – Jane Smiley

If you are wondering if you have toxic positivity, then here are some experiences and expressions that will help you recognize it in your daily life:

  • Ignoring or hiding your real feelings
  • Feeling ashamed or guilty for the emotions you truly feel 
  • Forcing yourself to move ahead by dismissing specific feelings
  • Encouraging others to be positive and playing down their actual experiences 
  • Telling others that their situation could be worse, instead of validating their feelings
  • Criticizing or shaming others for feeling sad, frustrated or other negative emotions
  • Not leaving any space to acknowledge or experience pain
  • Having a fake-it-till-you-make-it attitude
  • Avoiding feelings that may affect and bother your mental and emotional well being
The Horror Of Toxic Positivity: Why Positive Thinking Can Be Harmful

Toxic positivity is harmful

“Positive thoughts are not enough. There have to be positive feelings and positive actions.” – Kamari aka Lyrikal

Did you know, according to a survey in 2017, only 33% of U.S. adults feel happy? But what about the rest? Don’t they know how to be happy? Don’t they know how to be positive? Well, they might be a bit too positive for their own good.

A recent study published in Emotion, a scientific journal under the American Psychological Association, revealed that overestimating positivity and happiness can actually be counterproductive. It can make us obsess over negative emotions and make us feel more stressed. Forcing yourself to be happy and pressurizing yourself to remain positive constantly, regardless of the circumstances, can lead to unhappiness.By refusing to acknowledge your true emotions and holding on to fake or toxic positivity, you are ultimately driving yourself to long term unhappiness.

In an article published in TIME, Brock Bastian, co-author of the study and social psychologist at the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, wrote:

“Happiness is a good thing, but setting it up as something to be achieved tends to fail. Our work shows that it changes how people respond to their negative emotions and experiences, leading them to feel worse about these and to ruminate on them more.”

Psychologist Brock Bastian added:

“When people place a great deal of pressure on themselves to feel happy, or think that others around them do, they are more likely to see their negative emotions and experiences as signals of failure. This will only drive more unhappiness.”

The study is not a criticism on positivity or the pursuit of happiness. It is rather about understanding the importance of realizing and accepting negative emotions as a normal & healthy part of life. According to research published by the American Psychological Association, difficult emotions can eventually make us feel a lot happier in life. 

Maya Tamir, PhD, lead researcher and psychology professor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said: 

“Happiness is more than simply feeling pleasure and avoiding pain. Happiness is about having experiences that are meaningful and valuable, including emotions that you think are the right ones to have. All emotions can be positive in some contexts and negative in others, regardless of whether they are pleasant or unpleasant.”

Psychologist Brock Bastian believes accepting messy feelings paves the way for better mental health. He added:

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