There's an undeniable power in positivity. But the recent trend of having "good vibes only" also has a dark side: Meet toxic positivity.
Toxic positivity is the excessive and ineffective practice of generalizing yourself as happy or as "looking at the bright side" in all situations. It is asking yourself or others to turn off their emotions or consideration of negative outcomes in the pursuit of staying optimistic or staying happy.
Toxic positivity is a cultural trend that's reinforced every time we say something that's not fine is "fine" or that we're "doing OK" when we're doing terribly. It's reinforced every time we tell someone "it's fine," "that's nothing" or "just smile." It favors external signs of happiness and the general comfort of people around you over honesty, authenticity and hard conversations.
Engaging in toxic positivity can be conscious or unconscious. In the U.S., it's a cultural norm to "be polite" and keep your personal business out of most conversations, allowing toxic positivity to run rampant whether we realize it or not.
While optimism is an important aspect of building resilience and living a generally happy life, forced positivity can be harmful for a host of reasons. When pushed to far, the need to be positive can result in the denial, minimization or invalidation of the authentic human experience. Sometimes things make us feel bad. Sometimes things are terrible. That should be accepted as a part of life — anything else is dishonest.
A culture of toxic positivity can also result in dishonesty and a lack of transparency and accountability. The need to always "look at things on the bright side" can keep important conversations about the bad side of things from happening, whether it's a conversation about how someone made us feel that we need resolution from or a negative outlook we need to prepare for.
When we push our bad feelings down, it can have impacts on our individual health, too. Strong, close relationships aren't based on lies and "good vibes." As a result, engaging in toxic positivity can mean weak relationships, feelings of isolation or being alone and even depression. At the same time, feeling alone in, well, feeling negative can result in shame — an emotion that can lead to depression and anxiety.
On top of all that, suppressing emotions can result in increased stress and anxiety, according to research done at Stanford University. Both of those afflictions can result in a host of physical and mental afflictions, including high blood pressure, chest pain, headaches, sleep problems, digestive issues, muscle weakness and troubles concentrating, according to Medical News Today.
The following are signs you're engaging in toxic positivity:
So, how can you turn toxic positivity around? Try taking up these habits:
Our employer partners are actively recruiting women! Update your profile today.