What's the difference between being a positive person and toxic positivity?
So, anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely love mindset, empowerment, and getting out of our comfort zones (I'm a transformational coach after all!). Being hopeful, thinking positively, being grateful, and believing in the best possible outcome is important. Because remember:
We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same. – Carlos Castaneda
The truth is, you're not going to get very far with a bad attitude, complaining, blaming, not taking accountability, and assuming the worst.
Trust me when I say that will NOT CHANGE your life and it will only unfortunately validate your own beliefs that everything sucks and you can't do anything, and life is miserable and you're powerless to change it. It's not a good place to be. Trust me on this!
Sure, you can do that, but you will be miserable. We don't have power over everything in our lives. Pandemics happen. we lose jobs. We go through difficulties, etc. But the only thing we have is our perspective and our attitude. Also remember:
"We always retain the ability to choose our attitude," Viktor Frankl.
BUT there is a difference between trying to choose your perspective and the best way to deal with disappointment and setbacks and learn from it while processing and pretending everything is great when it's not.
I've noticed lately a lot of toxic positivity creep up that is not really helpful. Why?
Because if you want to be able to change your life you have to clean up what's happening in your brain (negative emotions) otherwise you're just polishing a dirty plate!
All those real genuine feelings are getting bottled up inside and pushed down (feelings like unworthiness, limiting beliefs) and they are going to sabotage your progress.
So let's talk about what toxic positivity is and what to do instead..
So what exactly is toxic posivity?
Toxic positivity is a term used to describe the use of forced positive thinking as a way to suppress bad feelings or genuine negative emotions. Yes, when things go wrong, sitting and dwelling in them isn't so helpful nor is focucing on every little thing that goes wrong and giving away all your power complaining and just looking for things that are bad. What I am refering to is the exact opposite.
For example, when faced with a difficult situation, instead of allowing yourself to experience and process the negative emotions associated with it, you might try to block out these feelings by overindulging in optimism. This type of “good vibes only” mentality robs us from our emotions and being able to actually process our emotion in a healthy way. Plus, this can be particularly problematic for those struggling with mental health difficulties.
In fact, toxic positivity is particularly harmful when it comes to mental health issues. By trying to repress difficult feelings, it fails to provide individuals with the space they need to grapple with their experience and process it. For people with depression, toxic positivity can also set up unrealistic expectations about what life should look like when managing mental illness. Telling a depressed person to just 'look on the bright side' or just 'choose happiness' seems like an unrealistic light-switch approach that might be so far away from reality it could lead to further guilt or self-judgement if they live up to those expectations (see EFT section on how to address this).
Where does toxic positivity show up?
Toxic positivity often takes on subtle or subconscious forms. It’s the idea that we should be happy all the time and never have any negative emotions. If things happen, those negative emotions can and should be suppressed, replaced by positive thoughts and statements, even if those thoughts are not always what we're really feeling (this is where EFT is so helpful!).
Common forms of toxic positivity include oversimplifying difficult situations or feelings, denying reality, and minimizing uncomfortable facts and feelings. It's a form of invalidation that is not helpful to someone going through a difficult time.
One example of this oversimilifying with phrases like:
“This isn't as big a deal as you're making it”
Or telling someone to “just BELIEVE” when they are going through a difficult financial situation
Or 'THINK POSITIVE' when they're going through a traumatic event without addressing their pain and discomfort.
Yes, perspective is everything but telling someone who's upset to just 'believe' is not always helpful.
Another form of toxic positivity is gaslighting—denying reality by telling someone “Things aren't as bad as they seem” or "this is probably for the best!" when their experience clearly indicates otherwise.
By furthering this mindset of hiding away from hard truths, it can become increasingly damaging to someone's well-being in the long run and doesn't allow them to have the experience.
We must recognize that it is rightful and healthy to express our genuine feelings in order to confront our personal issues rather than pretending everything is alright all the time.
Let's Look at the Dangers of Toxic Positivity
Being relentlessly focused on positivity may seem like a healthy mental outlook, but it can actually be quite dangerous. When someone forces herself or himself to “always look on the bright side” they are negating important aspects of life that come from both positive and negative experiences.
Toxic positivity unfortunately disregards reality and can actually leave someone feeling more isolated.
Unfortunately, many people might not even know they're doing it, and instead do this unknowingly out of convenience, self-preservation, or a misguided effort to make someone else more comfortable.
Overwhelmingly applying this behavior can lead people to feel that it's wrong to feel what they’re feeling and freeze up when it comes time to express themselves authentically– leading them to further isolate themselves instead of reaching out for help.
In order for us all to improve our mental health, it's essential that we learn how to accept our complete emotional experience with care and compassion– for both ourselves and for others.
When not processing negative emotions can be harmful to your health
Unresolved negative emotions can even have detrimental impacts on our mental and physical health over time.
“We think that denying our emotions makes us stronger and more resilient, but the research shows that it actually makes us LESS resilient.”— Brené Brown
For example, individuals who are constantly repressing difficult emotions may be more likely to suffer from chronic stress, chronic pain, or depression as they lack the necessary emotional tools to cope with life’s challenges. Furthermore, such individuals may be more prone to developing unhealthy coping strategies for dealing with their distress, such as drinking, drugs, smoking or unhealthy eating habits or other addictive behavior.
Overall, it is important to find healthier alternatives for managing difficult emotions.
By validating your feelings and finding mindful practices for self-reflection, you can gain greater insight into yourself and learn how to better manage stress in a healthy way.
Healthy Alternatives to Toxic Positivity
Approaching things with a positive attitude and practicing gratitude are essential parts of maintaining emotional and mental wellbeing. Fortunately, there are healthy alternatives to toxic positivity that focus on acknowledging, validating, and understanding our thoughts and feelings.
“We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”— Brené Brown
We can use methods such as mindfulness, EFT Tapping or meditation which provide an opportunity to sit with our emotions before reacting impulsively or denying them altogether. It is key to remember that it is alright to feel whatever we’re feeling without judgement or shame.
To make difficult times easier, it can be helpful to ask ourselves:
"What am I feeling right now?"
"What do I need right now?"
"Is there anything I can do?"
"What am I struggling to accept?"
"What meaning am I attaching to this situation?"
“What can I do to make it better?”
"Where do I want to go from here?"
This allows us gain perspective while actively seeking solutions instead of remaining stuck in the suffering.
When it comes to managing difficult feelings, it is great to have some sort of supportive network or community. Whether this support comes from a friend, family member, therapist, or another resource such as an online forum, having someone to talk to and share experiences with can help us process our emotions and move forward. Additionally, writing in a journal can also be beneficial for processing negative emotions as it provides a safe space for us to express ourselves.
Mindful meditation exercises can also prove helpful in managing difficult feelings as these practices allow yourself the opportunity to observe the state of mind without having to rely on positive jargon and fixed thought patterns. Through this, you may discover deeper insights into your inner being and come out with greater clarity about why certain troubles linger and how best they can be managed. It could also be helpful to speak to friends or family about such matters so that they can offer some support if need be.
Mindful practice is another great way to soothe difficult emotions. Mindfulness is the practice of being present and aware without judgement. It encourages us to observe our thoughts, feelings, and experiences without labelling them as good or bad. Practicing mindfulness can provide an opportunity to be kinder and more compassionate with ourselves when dealing with negative emotions instead of repressing them or pushing them away.
How EFT tapping can help you process to shift into genuine calm and positivity instead of fake positivity
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) tapping is an evidence-based mind-body technique used to process and manage emotions. It involves the application of pressure on points on the body while focusing on a particular emotion or thought, and can be done alone or with an EFT practitioner.
EFT tapping can be used to alleviate stress and emotional distress while you allow yourself to authentically work through your emotions while articulating them. It involves gently tapping on the body’s energy points while focusing on a particular emotion or thought. Sometimes, a good tap and rant or tap and cry can be incredibly cleansing and feel like a huge weight has been lifted off your shoulders!
This releases the emotional charge associated with negative experiences and helps to reduce anxious feelings. Additionally, EFT can help to identify and process underlying emotions that are causing distress in a safe and non-confrontational way.
As you allow yourself to authentically articulate everything that you're feeling you release the emotions, and then you can start reframig things to a helpful and empowering mindset.
Overall, it is important to remember that we all experience difficult emotions from time to time, and it is essential to practice self-care and self-compassion when dealing with them. By utilizing healthier alternatives to toxic positivity and trying out different techniques such as EFT tapping, individuals can better manage their emotions without succumbing to pressure to remain positive at all times.
In conclusion, although it is important to have a positive outlook on life, it is equally important to acknowledge and process difficult emotions in an effective manner. By utilizing healthier alternatives such as mindfulness, meditation, EFT tapping, and/or having support from others, we can better manage our mental health and ultimately shift into genuine feelings.
“Live a life that challenges you, fulfills you, has meaning, and brings you moments of joy. Open yourself to all emotions and experiences. Discover what you value and follow it until the end, knowing that sometimes life is going to hurt and that’s what makes it worth living.”
— Whitney Goodman, Toxic Positivity
ANDREA HUNT - Online Transformational Life Coach & EFT Tapping Practitioner based in Munich, Germany
I'm an accredited transformational life coach from Animas Centre for Coaching UK and a member of the International Coaching Federation. I'm also a Level 2 practitioner in EFT Tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique) and a member of AEFTP (Association of Emotional Freedom Technique Professionals).
If you're not sure where to start transforming your life, you can download my free ebook on How to Start Your Personal Growth Journey.
Are you ready to change your life, let go of old beliefs, empower yourself for a mindset shift to move forward? Mark Batterson says: You're always one decision away from a totally different life.
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