7 signs your can-do attitude is actually ‘toxic positivity’ in disguise


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I once had a glowingly perma-happy friend that pushed away conflict and negativity like Play Doh; to this day, I remember my friend’s smile, and her ulcers. Newsflash for the uninformed: toxic positivity can be mega harmful to your body and your mind! And of course I’m Team Doom and Gloom, so I embrace this school of thought. But for those with a sunny disposition, it may hard to see if your positivity has turned nuclear.

Well, kind of hard. Writing for The Psychology Group, Samara Quintero, LMFT, CHT and Jamie Long, PsyD, help identify what toxic positivity is, and where it could be hiding. Now to be clear, toxic positivity isn’t as simple as just being so gosh darn pleasant. They define toxic positivity it as an “excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations,” noting further that “toxic positivity results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.”

To wit, you’re a person. You’re not a millennial pink “Good Vibes Only” throw pillow. Sometimes things are terrible and it’s more effective to allow yourself or your loved ones to speak your truth. If you bottle things up, well, it can cause real stress on the body and the mind. And if you tell your friend that “everything happens for a reason” when some moron in a Hummer steamrolled their corgi, Waffles, you’re going to get hit upside the head.

So how do you spot the differences between one and the other? You might be emitting some radioactive waves if you find yourself:

Signs of toxic positivity

  1. Hiding or masking your true feelings
  2. Trying to “just get on with it” by stuffing or dismissing emotion(s)
  3. Feeling guilty for feeling what you feel
  4. Minimizing other people’s experiences with “feel good” quotes or statements
  5. Trying to give someone perspective (e.g., “it could be worse”) instead of validating their emotional experience
  6. Shaming or chastising others for expressing frustration or anything other than positivity
  7. Brushing off things that are bothering you with a “It is what it is”

If you find yourself guilty of any of these (particularly 4-6) it’s really time to check yourself. Keeping a façade of “Everything is Awesome!” is going to make it super hard connecting with people. By not showing your own emotions, you’re acquainting people with a persona. Likewise, others will take your quote-throwing cardboard, and will be turned off by your lack of empathy.

But to be perfectly clear, I don’t think that looking on the bright side is a fatal flaw. The world is made up of optimists and pessimists, a delicate balance of light and dark. If my cynicism dominated every article on this website, y’all would be like, “Nope, I quit.” What we ask is that when you’re looking for the silver lining, acknowledge that the clouds actually exist. Also, stop using that silver lining line, rebrand with something like, “I see you and I’m here for you.”

Ultimately, the best way to spread positivity is by allowing people—and yourself—a certain amount of compassion and catharsis. Your friends (and stomach) will thank you.

Bottling things up? This is what you need to know about smiling depression on the immediate. Also, here’s the five things one psychologist does for her mental health.

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