Toxic Positivity: Why being “Positive” is not always the solution?
Life Style

Toxic Positivity: Why being “Positive” is not always the solution?


“ Be Positive”
“Everything happens for a reason”
“Look on the bright side”
“Happiness is a choice”

Most of us would have heard these phrases. Haven’t we? Most of us have an opinion that these are positive phrases and well appealing and intentioned ones, the process of overgeneralizing positive things and happiness can at times be toxic. Though these are well-intentioned phrases, they could take an upside turn at times. Too much positivity or good things can turn negative. This is the essence of this article. This article will take you through the other side of being on the extremely positive even in times of uncertainty.

What is Toxic Positivity?

The tendency concerned with the overgeneralization of a positive state of mind that encourages using positivity to suppress and displace any acknowledgement of stress and negativity is called Toxic Positivity (Sokal et al., 2020; Bosveld, 2021). Toxic Positivity can simply be defined as focusing or having extremely positive states of mind that either displace or suppress the current position or state of the individual. This includes overgeneralizing the situation as an extremely positive one and not acknowledging the realistic stress and negativity that is around.

Read More: Psychology Behind Overthinking

Examples of Toxic Positivity

This part will load you with certain examples of life situations where toxic positivity unfolds.

  1. Imagine your coworker in the company is your best friend. He or she shares that their spouse has been diagnosed with Cancer. In such a situation when you tell them to “think positively” instead of acknowledging their emotions and empathizing. This is what we call Toxic Positivity.
  2. A situation where you tend to listen to the concerns of your friend sharing the physical and verbal abuses the individual has gone through. In such a situation when you tell her to “be grateful for what you are now”. This would infuriate the individual. All of these are a few examples of Toxic Positivity.

Read More: Empathy vs Sympathy: Understanding the Difference

Toxic Positivity in Social Media

Social media platforms have been in a boom since the century, especially the recent years. People are more prone to anything and everything that happens on social media. Social media has become the immediate neighbour to most individuals today. These platforms know so much more than the individuals near and rear would know.

Read More: How does social media materialism bring both stress and unhappiness?

There is a thrive in social media where people tend to post positive messages or posts amidst the chaos they have been going through. This perhaps was highlighted during the time of COVID-19. This led to the revolution of toxic positivity in social media. These led people to post more aesthetic and positive posts on social media rather than the harsh reality or painful reality. Our need to have control or avoid the uncertain aspects of reality led to the trend of Toxic Positivity.

Toxic Positivity and Workplace

The research studies have found a correlation between the Happiness of employees and improved outcomes of products and services in the workplace. Since then, there has been a greater emphasis on employee’s well-being. Though it’s for the fine line of good for the organization as well as the employees, there is another side that is not spoken of much. This led to a greater impact in the workplace- where employees are forced to view the world more positively and disown negative situations. When companies promote a culture of toxic positivity, it affects employees adversely. This can backfire leading to limited productivity and lessened owningness among the employees.

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Research on Toxic Positivity

Laura Campbell-Sills et al. Behav Res Ther. 2006 researched the topic “Effects of suppression and acceptance on emotional responses of individuals with anxiety and mood disorders. There were about 60 participants with either anxiety or mood disorders in the study. They were divided into two groups: one group received a logic behind the suppression of emotions while the other group received a rationale for accepting the emotions. The participants were asked to suppress or accept the emotions as they were while watching an emotionally provoking movie. The physiological responses like respiratory rate, skin response, and heart rate were examined.

Read More: Mood Disorders in the Modern World

The results showed that there were not many differences between the groups. While there seemed to be certain significant differences: the acceptance group had lesser negative affect compared to the suppression group. Also, the suppression group seemed to have an increased heart rate while the acceptance group had a lesser heart rate. Similar research studies also convey to us that the acceptance of reality would enhance our well-being while suppression or ignorance of reality and emphasising Positivity that is not there can lead to negative effects and worsen an individual’s well-being.

Read More: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Strategies to overcome Toxic Positivity

There are certain ways in which individuals can deal with and overcome Toxic Positivity. This includes

  • Acknowledgement of emotions
  • Recognition of emotions
  • Acceptance of emotions as they are rather than sugarcoating.
  • Empathize
  • Stay realistic and be mindful of words and actions
  • Learn and understand that it’s normal to either experience positive or negative emotions
  • Instead of the phrases “Stay positive or good vibes only”, start using phrases like “I hear you” and “it seems really tough”.
  • Have more realistic expectations
  • If there’s anything that is bothering you, consult professionals.

When positivity can have its realistic positive impacts, when the level reaches above par and moves to the extreme range of positivity, it becomes toxic. This toxic positivity can lead to a greater negative impact on the individual’s mental health and wellbeing. So, it’s very much mandatory to create a culture that values emotions, uncertain situations and authenticity. A supportive environment would foster an optimistic impact on the world.

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