Toxic Positivity: The Dark Side of Positive Vibes
Sun, April 11, 2021

Toxic Positivity: The Dark Side of Positive Vibes

Optimism is supposed to help people look on the bright side. Previous studies have shown the great impacts of being optimistic / Photo by: hootie2710 via 123RF

 

People experience some low points in their lives, which is normal. During these times, we usually turn to our friends to vent or ask for help or advice. In return, they will try to cheer us up and tell us all of the positive things to say to keep us going. But, despite these, we became more upset. It seems that those encouraging words don’t really help in uplifting our moods. 

Optimism is supposed to help people look on the bright side. Previous studies have shown the great impacts of being optimistic. A 2016 study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reported that the most optimistic women have 52 percent lower risk of dying from infection, 39 percent lower risk of dying from stroke, 38 percent lower risk of dying from respiratory disease, 38 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease, and 16 percent lower risk of dying from cancer.

However, this is not applicable all the time. Responding to negative emotions with glass-half-full thinking is known as toxic positivity, also called dismissive positivity. For instance, when a friend immediately responds to less-than-pleasant news with platitudes like “You’ll get over it!” the person venting out may feel that their emotions are invalid. Psychologists define toxic positivity as the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations. 

Most of the time, toxic positivity results in the minimization and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience. According to The Ladders, a United States-based company providing career news, advice, and tools and an online job search service, toxic positivity is on the rise due to an increase in spirituality and mindfulness. Bianca L. Rodriguez, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist in Los Angeles, said, “A lot of people don’t understand the deeper mechanisms of those things.” 

It’s Okay Not to Be Okay

It’s natural to want happiness in life. Most of the time, we convince ourselves to always adhere to the positive side of everything just to make our lives feel better. The thing is, not everyone uses this kind of coping mechanism to deal with their emotions. Some people want to just vent and whine without being reminded to always look on the brighter side of life. They want to talk about their feelings without being judged or feeling guilty.

The rise of toxic positivity has come to light due to a lot of posts on social media talking about “positive vibes only.” While the intention of these posts is good, it does more harm than good sometimes, especially when someone is going through a difficult time. According to the Times of India, an Indian English-language daily newspaper owned by The Times Group, it is sometimes harmful to look at the positive aspect of the situation all the time when someone wants to feel validated and listened to. 

The rise of toxic positivity has come to light due to a lot of posts on social media talking about “positive vibes only.” While the intention of these posts is good, it does more harm than good sometimes / Photo by: Dean Drobot via 123RF

 

Psychologists also agreed that the pressure of thinking of the brighter side of things is rising. Peg O’Connor, Ph.D., an expert contributor for Pro Talk on Rehabs.co, stated that the underlying belief of “Just change your attitude, put a smile on your face and everything will be fine” doesn’t help in people’s problems. “We live in a world where there are rampant racial, sexual, religious, and other forms of oppression. These structural realities wear people down in all sorts of ways. For many people, sustained happiness will be elusive,” she said. 

Unfortunately, the dark side of positive vibes goes deeper than forcing people to positively view life when they are feeling worse. People are ignoring the fact that it is natural and part of the human experience to feel bad sometimes. We need to be reminded that it’s fine not to be okay all the time.

There are several signs to know if you have fallen into the hole of toxic positivity. According to Well and Good, a premier lifestyle and news publication devoted to the wellness scene, this includes trying to “just get on with it” by stuffing or dismissing emotions, hiding your true feelings, and feeling guilty for feeling what you feel. Some of the signs that people are giving their friends toxic positive vibes are brushing off things that are bothering them, shaming or chastising them for expressing frustration or anything other than positivity, and minimizing their experiences with “feel good” quotes or statements. 

Why Toxic Positivity Is Dangerous

A recent survey published in the journal Emotion reported that excessively trying to be happy all the time is counterproductive. People forcing themselves to be happy could eventually lead to being unhappy. This happens when we try to hide our emotions when we are bound to feel sad. This could be dangerous since previous studies showed that hiding or denying feelings leads to more stress on the body. When we hide our true emotions, we deny our truth—the truth that life can hurt sometimes. 

Also, hiding and suppressing our emotions could mean that we are living inauthentically with ourselves and with the world. Sometimes, people lose connection with themselves during these times, making it difficult for others to connect and relate to them.

It’s extremely important that we are honest with ourselves. According to Shoppable, an online and mobile content platform focused on all things beauty—from the best products on the market to the latest celebrity trends to timeless and instructional “how-tos,” it will be helpful to accept that we cannot control everything in our lives. 

While there’s nothing wrong with uplifting people’s feelings with positivity, we should always remember that it causes more harm than good sometimes. We must learn how to deal or react when people vent their problems to us and to be careful not to make them feel invalidated.

People forcing themselves to be happy could eventually lead to being unhappy. This happens when we try to hide our emotions when we are bound to feel sad / Photo by: Aleksandr Davydov via 123RF