Mental Health

Toxic Positivity—What It Is and Why You Should Avoid It

Ever put on a brave face even though you felt miserable? Or tried to cheer up a friend experiencing loss or stress with a feel-good attitude? There’s such a thing as toxic positivity—here’s what it is and why you must avoid it.

By D Tejaswi
15 May 2021

Toxic positivity is an obsession with positive thinking irrespective of the circumstances. It can occur in two ways—one that is self-induced and two, induced by others. “Anything in excess is bad, an optimistic state where you negate or invalidate normal human emotions can pose health and mental risks,” says Geeta Magesh, Hyderabad-based clinical psychologist and a registered practitioner with Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI). A 10-year Stanford study finds that denying negative feelings as a coping mechanism is linked to higher levels of depression.



Well-intentioned phrases like, “Don’t worry, be happy,” or “Look at the bright side” over generalise encouragement while denying or displacing feelings of stress, negativity and trauma. “It misleads the person to mask or not show a part of themselves—forcefully shutting off their emotions. This state of suppression can lead to severe mental health issues,” says Magesh.


In the book, Toxic Positivity, T R Tucker, sheds light on the flaws of the motivation industry. The author says that the feel-good ideology, cleverly constructed phrases and much of the banter used cause potential harm. Too much emphasis on positive thinking risks minimising and invalidating painful or stressful moments of a person’s life.


“Imperfection is human. Just like we are allowed to show positive emotions such as happiness, courage and acceptance, it is important to show and experience negative emotions like anger or anxiety,” says Ms Magesh. She explains that the more we suppress these emotions the stronger will be the psychological response in terms of denial, fear or anxiety. “The long-term physical responses include palpitations, sweating, rise in blood pressure or sugar levels,” she adds.


If you are wondering whether you are guilty of perpetuating toxic positivity, avoid the following.
  1. Masking your real emotions
  2. Dismissing an emotion by trying to ‘just get on with it’
  3. Feeling bad about how you’re feeling
  4. Using feel-good quotations to minimise other people’s experiences
  5. Attempting to provide another perspective by saying ‘it could be worse’ rather than validating someone’s emotional experience
  6. Shaming someone for showing disappointment or dissatisfaction
  7. Ignoring stuff that bothers you with an ‘It is what it is’ attitude


How to deal with toxic positivity
Magesh suggests some ways to cope with toxic positivity.

1. Check your statements: Change your thoughts and words. Instead of saying ‘everything happens for a reason’, you can say ‘I see that you’re distressed, do you want to talk about it?’ Allow the person to vent. Just listening helps the person feel better.

2. Maintain a thought journal: Acknowledge your emotions and verbalise them by maintaining a journal of your thoughts and feelings. In this way, you let the fears out of your system.

3. Talk to your loved ones: Talk about your feelings or fears to your loved ones who are non-judgmental and trustworthy.

4. Reach out for professional help: You can always talk to a professional who can help you process your emotions better. This can help you to gain a more balanced approach.


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