Toxic Positivity and Its Negative Effect on Mental Health

Positivity is regularly cited as a great character trait because, more often, it is a good trait. Positivity can be helpful, healing, and instill hope. However, there are times when positivity goes too far and can become detrimental to certain situations by not allowing negative feelings to be expressed. When this occurs it is referred to as, toxic positivity.

What Is Toxic Positivity?

Toxic positivity is over-zealous positivity that tramples and invalidates negative feelings. Sometimes, feelings like grief, sadness, and anger, need to be expressed for the relative processing of emotions. Toxic positivity can stop the processing of emotions and become a method of ignoring unpleasant news or feelings. When people avoid unpleasant feelings, emotions can get buried and this could have a negative effect on a person’s mental and physical health.

Who Can Suffer from Toxic Positivity?

Anyone can suffer from toxic positivity. With the ongoing pandemic, healthcare professionals, teachers, and social workers cite toxic positivity as being prevalent in their workplaces. What this means is that workers in these fields are overworked and don’t have enough resources, however, they are pushed to be positive for the sake of their clients, patients, and students. Oftentimes their concerns, feelings of burnout, safety, and fears are belittled, ignored, or invalided in the name of staying positive. Toxic positivity tramples over the fact that people need to be heard, supported, and their concerns or criticisms validated. In healthcare particularly, positivity alone cannot cure ailments, and it’s perfectly valid for a person to experience negative emotions when working through a health scare. Toxic positivity can make a bad situation worse if the proper care and validation needed are not present.

Toxic positivity can be prevalent in families and households as well. Oftentimes toxic positivity can be used to gloss over hurt feelings, neglect, or trauma. Toxic positivity can also be used to downplay, or avoid dealing with, a negative situation. When families use toxic positivity to avoid conversations, it’s a slippery slope into manipulation, deception, and even abuse or neglect. Some people use toxic positivity to engage in what’s called “gaslighting,” or trying to convince another person their thoughts or experiences are incorrect or not worth talking about.

Toxic positivity can be felt in group settings as well. Schools, social groups, religious organizations, and more may resort to a mix of toxic positivity and peer pressure to maintain control of the group. This is manipulative and can cause problems when a genuine criticism or feeling of doubt is expressed. Positivity should never be held over someone’s head or used to portray someone negatively by comparison.

What Does Toxic Positivity Do if It’s Not Positive?

Toxic positivity is detrimental to a person’s mental health, as it keeps them from working through negative feelings and tries to spin all bad things into good things. There’s certainly always room to look on the bright side, but there is a time and place for that—after negative emotions have been dealt with.

Suppressing negative emotions is not healthy and can build up resentment, fear, hurt feelings, and trauma. Toxic positivity’s suppression of negative emotions can even cause someone to lose the desire to confide in a friend because they think they’ll brush off their feelings and tell them to “make lemonade,” or some other unhelpful aphorism. Many people who have their self-esteem and identity tied to toxic positivity find it incredibly hard to deal with negative things when they come.

Another branch of toxic positivity can be found in “toxic well-being.” Toxic well-being is the idea that one always has to be doing well, always has to be happy, and always has to have good things going on in their life. This form of toxic positivity stems from the pressure and social media influence to always appear okay or better than okay. Those suffering from toxic well-being may find it hard to let their guard down and admit to someone that things aren’t as perfect as they appear.

How Do I Stay Positive but Avoid Toxic Positivity?

For parents and children especially, staying positive is a good way to keep a family strong, safe, and healthy. It’s important to show children that they will be okay, but it’s just as important to teach them how to work through negative feelings. It is possible to maintain an overall positive outlook without crossing the line into toxic positivity. A few methods include:

  • Validate others’ experiences, and show your children how to have empathy and validate others.
  • Initiate conversations about self-regulation and what to do when negative feelings and difficult situations arise.
  • Keep open lines of honest and non-judgmental communication.
  • Have safe, private spaces for children (and adults) to go to when they experience negative feelings and need time to process.

Toxic positivity can cause a host of problems if negative emotions are being buried. Toxic positivity can be a way to cover up long-lasting trauma. Many children and adults resort to toxic positivity because it does feel good for a while and lets them bury things they don’t want to deal with. It feels good to have peers recognize them as a positive person, creating a loop of positivity. Though this can be beneficial in some areas, there is a time, and a place for processing negative emotions and validating that bad things do happen. If your teen daughter is struggling to process and acknowledge her trauma, call Havenwood Academy. We are a long-term care facility determined to help your daughter work through her trauma. We offer a myriad of therapies led by our professional staff, and we can help your child find a healthy balance in their positivity. Call (435) 586-2500 today. 


Think Havenwood Might Be For You?

We encourage any visitors considering placing their daughter in treatment to fill out our online assessment as soon as possible. This two minute form will give our admissions team all the information needed to determine if your daughter is a good fit for our program.