How Toxic Positivity Hurts You: 13 Intense Truths

— Researched and reviewed by Dr. Sandip Roy.

Have you ever been told to “just think positive” when having a hard time?

That unrealistic “positive vibes only” attitude is called toxic positivity.

  • It asks you to reject negative emotions and react to pain with fake positivity.
  • It says that being optimistic and positive will ultimately make you rich and happy.
  • It tells you that it is your own fault if you have failures and hard times despite your goals.

“When you fail to get your pot of riches or joy from the universe, ‘the secret’ camp will convince you it was your fault. You failed to shake off the negativity holding you back.”

The truth is, positive thinking alone can’t solve problems. It won’t pay the bill or fill the stomach. It is not going to make you happier or more successful.

In fact, forced positive thinking can make you more stressed, miserable, and guilty.

Dive in to learn how to avoid the positivity trap and live more fulfilling lives.

13 Intense Truths About Toxic Positivity

Toxic positivity is also called forced positivity, delusional positivity, and fake positivity.

Here are powerful insights into it:

Toxic Positivity Truths PIN
  1. Toxic positivity asks you to act perfectly happy to show the world you’re okay, even when your life is not. But the truth is, it’s okay to be not okay.
  2. Toxic positivity rejects reality, makes negative emotions look bad, and labels distressed people as invalid. All wrong.
  3. Positivity is powerful, but so is authenticity. Don’t let fake smiles and inauthentic positivity take away your ability to feel and express real emotions.
  4. All your feelings are valid, but toxic positivity tries to convince you otherwise. It’s okay to feel a full spectrum of emotions.
  5. Emotions have value, and we developed them for good reasons. Don’t let toxic positivity make you feel guilty for feeling sad, angry, or anxious at times.
  6. True resilience comes from facing hardships head-on, not pretending they don’t exist. Beware of toxic positivity’s denial of reality.
  7. Chasing constant happiness is unrealistic and leads to burnout. Let every emotion happen naturally, and shun toxic positivity’s lies.
  8. Real happiness includes the full spectrum of emotions — both positive and negative. Say no to toxic positivity’s narrow, unrealistic expectations.
  9. Toxic positivity can be harmful — it falsifies pretend-good as genuine goodness. The better way is to embrace all your emotions and respond with natural emotions as life unfolds.
  10. Happiness isn’t the only valid emotion. Don’t let toxic positivity undermine your genuine experiences and make you feel ashamed.
  11. Pretending to be okay isn’t strength; it’s denial and avoidance. Reject toxic positivity and embrace your authentic truth.
  12. While sunshine and rainbows are great, they can’t cure everything. Know when you’re adopting toxic positivity and realign with holistic well-being.
  13. Being positive doesn’t mean rejecting reality. Instead, reject toxic positivity’s facade and embrace your real, multifaceted self.

How Toxic Positivity Negates Your Emotions

How can something positive have a negative effect? But that’s what happens with toxic positivity — it downgrades your happiness, success, and relationships:

1. Makes You Dismiss Difficult Emotions

Toxic positivity is a flawed approach to emotional regulation. Relentless optimism can make you dismiss your own feelings, leading to emotional unhealthiness.

For example, if you’re going through a breakup by ghosting, being told to “just move on” can make you feel like your pain and need for closure isn’t valid.

This approach cancels out difficult emotions, which you must experience as a process of grief, which is essential for mental well-being.

So, ironically, the constant pressure to banish negative emotions is making us feel even more unhappy.

2. Makes You Ignore Relationship Issues

Toxic positivity can cause you to overlook real problems in your relationships, leading to long-term damage.

Imagine your partner avoids discussing conflicts and says, “Let’s just focus on the good times.”

This can result in unresolved issues and resentment. Ignoring contentious issues in favor of positivity can erode the relationship over time.

3. Forces You Into Emotional Isolation

Isolation and loneliness are difficult states that all of us experience at some point in our lives.

But being told to keep a brave face in when lonely can make you less likely to share your pains, seek emotional support, and do things that are healthy, leaving you feeling isolated and unsupported.

The pressure to smile through adversity can make you feel shame or guilt, and then less likely to reach out for professional help.

4. Makes You Feel Unsupported In Grief

When you’re told to “move on” from a loss, it can make you feel like your grief isn’t valid, adding to your emotional burden.

Such reminders can make a bereaved person feel that others are indifferent to their loss. This perceived lack of emotional support can prolong the grieving process and make recovery more challenging.

It can also lead to feelings of being abandoned, as you may start to believe that your grief is a burden to others.

5. Adds To Your Emotional Strain

Being advised to focus on the “bright side” and keep focusing on the “light at the end of the tunnel” when you’re struggling can actually make your emotional pain worse, not better.

This kind of toxic positivity can create a cycle where you feel pressured to appear okay, even when you’re not.

Telling people to focus on positive thinking and a bright future doesn’t relieve their suffering; it adds to it.

It often leads to increased stress and anxiety, as you may feel like you’re failing at “being positive.”

6. Makes You Feel Like A Failure For Being Human

We have to feel all the emotions. The basic premise is that we are all humans, and we are prone to make mistakes, feel sad and bad, and have a lot of emotions that are anything but “uppity.”

Sadly, forced positivity can make you suppress your pessimistic and gloomy feelings, leading you to feel like you’re failing and out of control when you can’t maintain constant happiness.

The right way to deal with unpleasant emotions is to experience them and learn how to cope with them.

7. Makes You “Unbelong” When You Need Support

When you’re told to find the silver lining in your problems, it can make you feel “unbelonged” and misunderstood, even if the person meant well.

At a low point in life, phrases like “You have so much to be thankful for” can leave you feeling worse off.

This sense of not belonging is a great burden to carry. It can discourage you from seeking the emotional support you actually need, perpetuating a cycle of isolation.

“Unbelonging” can have long-term negative effects on mental health, including increased risk of depression and anxiety.

Moreover, research indicates that social support is a predictor of emotional adjustment to stressful life events (Monroe and Steiner, 1986), and it acts as a protective moderator between the experience of stressful life events and depression (Windle, 1992).

8. Reinforcing Social Inequality

Phrases that perpetuate stereotypes, like “strong Black woman,” “model minority,” and “man up,” can contribute to broader issues of social inequality.

These phrases not only marginalize individuals, but also perpetuate harmful societal norms. They build loaded expectations that often lay the groundwork for racism and classism.

For instance, the “model minority” stereotype can put undue pressure on certain ethnic groups to conform to an unrealistic standard of success, thereby masking systemic issues.

We have seen that these kinds of toxic positivity are related to mental health disparities among different social groups.

9. Failing You in Health Crises

Being told to “stay positive” during a health crisis can make you feel isolated and misunderstood, rather than supported.

Positive messages don’t improve the outcome of a terrible disease and can be damaging, especially for vulnerable people.

10. Amplifying Emotional Pain During Tragedy

Telling someone to “look on the bright side” during a tragedy can be not just insensitive but emotionally damaging.

Often, there is no positive side to a devastating event, and such advice can make the person feel even worse.

Curiosity, understanding, validation, and empathy are the four vital aspects of supporting and assisting people in their times of need.

How to avoid and handle toxic positivity?

how to avoid toxic positivity trap

1. Offer Genuine Support Instead of Toxic Positivity

To genuinely support someone, focus on four key elements: curiosity, understanding, validation, and empathy.

Active listening, nodding, and maintaining eye contact can make the other person feel heard. Open-ended questions like “Can you tell me more about this?” can deepen the conversation.

Empathetic responses like “I’m sorry you’re going through this” validate their feelings without necessarily agreeing with their perspective.

2. Know When To Ignore Positivity And Consult A Therapist

If you encounter toxic positivity, it’s often best to consult a mental health professional rather than relying on well-meaning but misguided advice.

A trained therapist can provide the emotional support and coping strategies you need.

3. Embrace Negative Emotions As A Natural Part of Life

Life isn’t always positive, and that’s okay. Suppressing negative emotions can actually increase your stress levels and exacerbate your problems.

Acknowledge your feelings instead of avoiding them.

4. Identify & Label Your Challenging Emotions

Labeling the emotion can be the first step in effectively dealing with it.

When you feel a negative emotion, don’t run from it. Identify what you’re feeling—is it fear, anger, or something else?

By giving your emotion a name, you create a mental distance that allows you to view it more objectively. This can be a powerful tool for understanding its root cause and how best to manage it.

5. Use Mindfulness To Process Negative Emotions

Once you’ve identified your emotion, let yourself feel it fully. Your body needs to go through the entire cycle of the emotion—rising, peaking, and falling.

Mindful breathing and even crying can help you process these feelings.

6. Practice Radical Acceptance To Counter Toxic Positivity

Another effective strategy is radical acceptance, or “amor fati,” which means loving your fate. Accept your current situation for what it is, even if you don’t like it.

This acceptance can be liberating, as it removes the need to sugarcoat or deny reality.

7. Maintaining Authentic Connections

To counteract the isolating effects of toxic positivity, focus on building genuine relationships where all emotions are welcome.

Authentic connections thrive when you can share your true feelings without the fear of being dismissed or invalidated.

Origins of Toxic Positivity

  • Toxic positivity has its roots in the 19th-century “New Thought” movement, when Phineas Quimby, a clockmaker, argued that physical illness stemmed from negative beliefs.
  • By the 1930s, positive thinking became synonymous with power and success, and cultural norms then pushed relentless positivity, teaching kids to suppress negative emotions.
  • A multibillion-dollar positive thinking industry shaped up. Psychologist Barbara Ehrenreich coined “toxic positivity” to warn against getting too caught up in forced happiness and denying authentic feelings.
self-esteem - don't take advice

Positivity & Guilt About Feeling Sad

  • An unrealistic pressure to be constantly positive and happy sets unattainable goals for perpetual happiness.
  • Negative emotions like sadness, anger, or anxiety are unavoidable parts of the human experience. But forced positivity denies the full spectrum of emotions, bottling up the negative ones.
  • When difficult situations come up that don’t match our goal of constant happiness, we tend to blame and shame ourselves.
  • This biased mindset traps us in a cycle of guilt for experiencing sadness or other difficult emotions during life’s ups and downs.

• You’d love to check this out: How To Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve And Calm Down

What “not” to say to a struggling person?

When someone is struggling, the last thing they need to hear is ‘be positive.’ It can make them feel like their struggles are not relevant.

Avoid dismissive phrases like these:

  • “Just snap out of it.”
  • “Others have it worse.”
  • “You’ll get over it soon.”
  • “This too shall pass.”
  • “It’s all in your head.”
  • “You’re overreacting.”
  • “Everything happens for a reason.”
  • “Try to be grateful for what you have.”

They minimize the sufferer’s experience and make them feel worse.

What can you say to a struggling person?

When someone is struggling, these phrases can validate their experience and offer support:

  • “I’m here for you.”
  • “How can I support you?”
  • “It’s okay to feel this way.”
  • “You’re not alone.”
  • “Would you like to talk about it?”
  • “Take all the time you need.”
  • “Your feelings are valid.”
  • “I can’t imagine how tough this is, but I’m glad you told me.”

They create a safe space for struggling people to express themselves without judgment. They also open the door for deeper communication on how best to support them.

Final Words

Forcing yourself or someone else to “think positive” in all circumstances is more harmful than helpful.

Stop accepting toxic positivity and instead, help spread the good message that avoiding negativity can lead to loneliness, guilt, shame, depression, and low self-esteem.

While at it, also focus on living a value-driven life. Decide what values are important to you and live by them. It will eventually lead to a more satisfying life.


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When it comes to mental well-being, you don't have to do it alone. Going to therapy to feel better is a positive choice. Therapists can help you work through your trauma triggers and emotional patterns.