Toxic positivity is plaguing conversations everywhere.
Likely birthed through the rise of social media and popular self-help books, toxic positivity is a half-baked attempt at making someone feel better by focusing on positive emotions. Think of it like dulling down someone’s struggles or problems, by telling them it can be solved with positive thinking or focusing on something else.
In the office, it happens daily. Maybe a co-worker had an embarrassing moment in a meeting or missed a deadline that has them worried. They approach another co-worker and ask to talk about it. The fact that they are asking to talk about it clearly means it’s on their mind. But the person who’s approached during these situations doesn’t have anything concrete to say. Simply, the person receiving the information deflect it’s like an annoying fly, drowning the other person with dreaded cliches fueled by positive thinking, or even worse, the dreaded three-word mantra: Good vibes only.
“Toxic positivity is when somebody tries to override the other person’s actual emotions about a situation,” Bianca L. Rodriguez, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist in Los Angeles, told Ladders. “It negates that the other person actually is having any feelings that people may describe as negative. I like to point out that feelings don’t have a negative or a positive, they are just what they are.”
A recent Instagram post pointed to the difference between actual validation and toxic positivity:
Toxic positivity on the rise?
An increase in spirituality and mindfulness could be to blame, according to Rodriguez.
“A lot of people don’t understand the deeper mechanisms of those things,” she said.
According to Rodriguez, people are confusing the actual value of this zen-like movement. Mindfulness, according to her, is about experiencing all of your emotions but not attaching meaning to them. She feels that people who are guilty of partaking in toxic positivity place more value into positive emotions but not doing enough work under the hood to repair what’s broken.
“Toxic positivity is like putting a bear costume on your dog and being like, ‘It’s a bear!’ But it’s actually just a dog,” she said. “It’s trying to dress it up without doing actual work to investigate and process the feeling underneath it.”
How to avoid toxic positivity
Whether you’re receiving or dishing toxic positivity, it’s important to recognize the situation.
For the person perhaps downplaying what someone is saying, Rodriguez recommends asking yourself, “Am I actually listening?”
“Listening means you are quietly hearing what the person says without planning your response,” she said. “I love the saying ‘it’s not about the rupture, it’s about the repair.’”
If you realize you’re partaking in toxic positivity, just because what’s said settled the situation at the moment doesn’t mean it can’t be revisited. Rodriguez thinks every situation can be revisited where you can go back and repair what came off as hurtful.
“I would say that if this rings a bell for you, that it would be good to engage in some self-examination about what are the things that you are avoiding in yourself,” she said. “Are you (doing) toxic positivity to yourself — like when you try to tell yourself to get over things? It’s like covering up some deeper things that are going on and knowing that you’re a human being. You’re complex — you’ve got all the feels.”