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Are you a victim to toxic positivity?

Submitted by Dean on 4 October, 2021 - 11:25 with 0 comment

Are you a victim to toxic positivity?

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘too much of a good thing is a bad thing.’ It turns out that the same is true for positivity.

But what is toxic positivity? The term, which at first glance seems to be a paradox, was once unheard of but has grown in popularity in recent years.

Clinical psychologist Jaime Zuckerman explains it in the following way: “Toxic positivity is the assumption…that despite a person’s emotional pain or difficult situation, they should only have a positive mindset.”1

What does it look like?

Toxic positivity comes in many forms:

  • Your friend has just lost their job and is worried they won’t be able to find employment soon enough to pay their mortgage. You tell them they need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and “just have the right attitude”
  • You’re going through a tough breakup. You scold yourself for being down in the dumps because “at least you’ve got a roof over your head”
  • Your colleague expresses to the team that they’re feeling anxious about returning to the office in a few weeks. A colleague responds, “oh, everything will be fine. Stop being so negative!”

The two key takeaways from these scenarios are that toxic positivity 1) can be self-directed or aimed at others and 2) discourages the expression of anxious or sad emotions

When positivity becomes toxic

That’s not to say that maintaining a positive outlook during troubling situations is a bad thing. Keeping in mind the fact that brighter days are ahead is a useful coping mechanism in times of duress and can certainly do a great deal to soothe feelings of anxiety and despair.

The real issue arises when attempts are made to cancel out a very necessary part of processing negative emotions – feeling them first.

Toxic positivity as a coping mechanism seemed to gain traction as a response to the pandemic. Covid-19 gave many people a sense of not being in control of their own lives, and, faced with such uncertainty, it isn’t totally unreasonable that many turned to the one thing they could control: their outlook on life.

But when a relentlessly positive outlook stifles or discourages the act of feeling itself, that’s when it becomes toxic positivity.

The only way out is through

Toxic positivity gets its name because it doesn’t work. Its single-minded focus on the idea that your situation can always be worse and that someone in the world is worse off than you – and therefore you should be grateful – has been shown to have the opposite of the intended effect.

Studies show that suppressing your emotions serves only to reinforce them and make them stronger2 and can even result in increased chances of premature death.3

Bottling up negative emotions also has a detrimental impact on physical health; according to Time,4 when we mentally suppress our emotions, we tend to hold our breath and constrict our muscles which themselves have adverse psychological effects.

If you want to stop feeling bad, first you have to feel bad

The research is clear: feeling and expressing your emotions as they are is a critical part of processing them – and ultimately overcoming them. There is no way to ignore or turn your back on your emotions without hurting yourself in the process and ultimately prolonging the feeling you were trying to tamp down. That’s why toxic positivity doesn’t work.

Another reason we should reject toxic positivity is because it doesn’t align with the real world. No one feels optimistic and happy 100% of the time, so expecting people to behave to the contrary is simply unrealistic.

Bad things happen. Life is, unfortunately, not a series of solely happy events. Sickness, loss, failure and disappointment are irrefutable features of life, and to deny our rights to our emotions ignores a central part of what it means to be human.

If you find yourself on the receiving end of toxic positivity – or even find that your internal voice demands that you “stop being so negative” – you should assert yourself. It’s ok to say, “I appreciate that you’re trying to comfort me, but that’s not the kind of support I need.”

We believe in a personalised service. To discuss your health insurance needs, get in touch with the Health Insurance team on 02920 626 226


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