The Dark Side of the Positivity Culture that Harms Our Mental Health

By Катерина Михайленко

January 10, 2024   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Discover 6 Tips to Help You Overcome the Negative Consequences of Toxic Positivity

Today, positive thinking is the main philosophy promoted by social media.

The image of a happy person with infinite self-confidence, extremely positive thoughts, and an optimistic attitude is broadcast to us from almost everywhere.

Even though most people accept the positive way of thinking as correct, there is also a downside to the “positivity culture” that we can see today. So, that’s why it’s time to talk about the shadow of toxic positivity.

How Can Positive Thinking Cause You Mental Problems?

On the one hand, the idea of positive thinking conveys an important message – when faced with trouble, you don’t get upset or angry but rather enjoy the valuable experience you’ve gained. You replace a negative emotion with a positive one, quickly stand up and move on to reach new heights. Still, the questions arise on where does all the negativity go and whether it just disappears? It’s unlikely.

According to psychologist Antonio Rodellar, denying harmful situations in our lives can be compared to seeking reality with only one eye. He states that positive psychology can be a beneficial practice only when it’s learned and applied correctly. Otherwise, “it indiscriminately generates a very partial vision of reality and a feeling of helplessness” – said Rodellar.

People who are seriously addicted to positive thinking are pleased to have a sense of control over their lives. They used to develop a false sense of calmness. After all, if you create your own life yourself, it will not be so bad. However, difficulties begin when a positive-minded person gets into trouble.

Suppressing negative emotions is not a good idea. On the contrary, as specialists claim, this is precisely the main reason for many mental problems. That’s why positive thinking, oddly enough, can cause depression.

People with such a system of thinking tend to believe that they write the script of their life. But, as I said initially, they used to overcontrol all the negative and positive events in their lives that can lead to blaming, insecurity, and disappointments for allowing themselves to get into these troubles. In turn, this can entail a heavy feeling of guilt when a person is responsible for literally everything that happens in their life.

How Can It Be Fraught with Dangerous Consequences if You Constantly Mask Your Emotions?

To understand this phenomenon better, I want you to imagine a piece of paper that symbolizes all your feelings and experiences.

What you need to do is to tear off a bit from this piece of paper called “Anger,” then cut “Sadness,” “Dissatisfaction,” “Jealousy,” and “Envy.” Now you only have a stub remaining in your hands. So, in this small piece, you are trying to be effective, successful, and happy.

In psychology, this practice is called splitting, when you split off unnecessary, unprofitable pieces from yourself, leaving only what you consider beneficial.

For example, being sad is not profitable and admitting that you’re tired is also not profitable. Feeling the need of the body and psycho for something is extra too. So, you remain “normal,” continuing to program yourself every day until, at some point, your internal resource runs out.

However, the problem is that when you ignore negative thoughts and feelings, they don’t disappear but accumulate inside, willing to break out one day, which causes even more psychological stress.

It would help if you do the opposite – face the pain inside, not worrying that it will harm you. Getting into pain, finding the cause, and experiencing it is the best solution. Then you don’t have to convince yourself in the morning that everything is excellent and you need to smile.


How Do You Know If You’re Trapped in Toxic Positivity?

Let’s take a quick test to help you identify the early signs of toxic positivity. Below is a list of six attitudes common to people who face this dilemma. Read each statement carefully and note whether it applies to you or not:

  • You often feel guilty about expressing your emotions.
  • You pretend to be happy even when you don’t feel that way.
  • You mask your sincere feelings and emotions so that you don’t make other people uncomfortable.
  • You say to yourself or others, “It could have been worse,” evaluating an unpleasant situation that happened in your life.
  • You shame other people who show “negative” emotions.
  • You are used to saying “It is what it is” instead of solving your problems.
How Do You Know If You're Trapped in Toxic Positivity?
Photo: theaggie

If you answered “Yes” up to 3 questions, chances are, you tried to suppress your feelings and pretend to be optimistic, isolating yourself from your own emotions.

Toxic positivity is often invisible, and we all have adhered to this frame of mind from time to time. However, by learning to recognize it, you will let go of this harmful way of thinking and provide/receive more sincere support as you deal with difficulties.

Learn How to Differ True Positivity from Imitation Empathy with 6 Steps

On my Instagram page, I posted a small survey on toxic positive thinking. It was important for me to hear the stories of real people who have faced this in a real-life experience. Today I want to share them with you and analyze the ways to react to this correctly and distinguish a toxic positivity from a healthy optimistic mood. These stories formed the basis of 6 steps to help you eliminate harmful positivity from your life.

Step 1. Recognize toxic messages

“When you’ve been through trauma and your family says you don’t need to pay attention to it because ‘you are stronger than this!'”

If someone shares difficult emotions, do not block them with poisonous platitudes. Instead, ask how the person feels and what could support them at this particular moment. Often they will tell you what is effective and necessary for them.

Step 2. Don’t let other people impose on you what you disagree with

“Some people like to ask absolutely everyone to smile. I think that there is no need to interfere in their own business. Maybe they just went through something terrible and can’t smile. But even if they just don’t want to, why do you care?”

If you are faced with toxic positivity, then you can respond by saying: “I see that you’re trying to cheer me up, but it’s tough for me right now, and it would much more support me if you spent time with me or just listened to me.”

Step 3. Be realistic about your feelings

“They say ‘You can do anything if you think about it a lot.’ Partly true, but at the same time, I will not become a skater after breaking my hip.”

When dealing with a stressful situation, it’s normal to feel stressed, anxious, and even scared. Don’t expect too much of yourself. Instead, focus on taking care of yourself and taking action to improve the situation.

Step 4. Your emotions are your tools – learn how to control and accept them

“Only a positive atmosphere in this house!” – what my parents told me when I came home from school after being bullied. Any relationship requires depth and discussion of hurt and anger. And yes, you can’t have good days if you don’t deal with bad ones either. ”

By denying and drowning out negative emotions, a person only intensifies them. It may seem that overcoming “bad” feelings, such as anger, sadness, and hopelessness, is a strong personality trait. Still, constantly lying to ourselves that everything is fine ultimately affects our mental health.


Step 5. Don’t discount other people’s problems.

“Telling someone with depression that they just need to be more positive, go out more, do this and that, be happy and enjoy every day …”

Devotees of toxic positivity cannot accept both their own and others’ negative feelings. So, when faced with the manifestation of someone’s anxiety, emptiness, or depression, they try to downplay the negative experience of the interlocutor and thereby isolate themselves from uncomfortable internal feelings.


Step 6. Listen and validate how others feel

“When parents insist that children should never complain because many are in a worse situation than them. I grew up with this mindset, and now I more often notice that it’s difficult for me to open up to people. This way of thinking devalues ​​a person’s emotions and forces them to be kept inside. ”

Negative emotions are absolutely normal. It’s useless to suppress them – you can only accept, allow yourself to experience them, and admit that you have every right to feel them.


Final Thoughts

Bad things happen, and sometimes they don’t leave anything good or teach us anything good, and it would be better if they didn’t happen to us at all. All we can do is admit that something terrible has happened, survive it as we can, and remember that we have the right to do so.

You don’t have to smile when you feel bad. You don’t have to run away from reality by plunging into positive semi-magical theories. And if someone supporting you offers to keep emotions to yourself and smile, most likely, this person didn’t even try to sympathize with you just because it’s hard.

I would like you to get my message correctly as I’m not calling for pessimism, not at all. I propose to look at things realistically and only occasionally include defensive pessimism. Don’t punish yourself for being in a bad mood – everyone is sad at times. You, like me, have the right to express your emotions.

Катерина Михайленко

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