“Look on the bright side!” “Stay positive!” “Chin up!” People share these encouraging phrases when life tosses us a challenge.
But what happens when positive vibes become toxic?
It’s enticing to tell a friend who is feeling down to “cheer up buttercup,” but sometimes things don’t get better.
Comforting a loved one is a natural reaction. We want them to be happy and stop feeling negative emotions. As understandable as that is, it can easily cross the line from kindness to toxic positivity.
Toxic positivity is “an insincere positivity that leads to harm, needless suffering, or misunderstanding,” according to psychiatrist Gayani DeSilva. This can look like dismissing or concealing emotions, feeling guilty for experiencing negative thoughts or feelings, or even giving others a hard time about their emotions and circumstances.
As you can imagine, projecting insincere, or “toxic,” positivity can harm others for many reasons.
For starters, projecting constant positivity gives others the impression that they should avoid negative emotions. It convinces people that there’s something inherently wrong with natural emotions. This invalidates the emotional response others experience in their current circumstances. Although chronic pessimism isn’t good for us either, chronic positivity can take it’s own toll.
The thing is, we need those so-called negative emotions. Repressing how we feel can literally make us sick. When we internalize anger, guilt, shame, or pain, it causes increased inflammation of the body. This can lead to illness.
So, how do you support someone without using toxic positivity?
- Mostly, you need to validate their feelings and empathize with their circumstances. You can say things like, “I know this is difficult,” or “I’d feel the same way.” Furthermore, you can remind them of their strength or help them distract. You can say things like, “You’ve faced similar challenges before,” or “I’m here for you.” You can be sincere and comforting without spreading toxic positivity.
There’s nothing wrong with optimism. It’s a beautiful concept that has gotten me through some dark circumstances. However, what never helped was friends and family and their “positive vibes only” attitudes. There’s a definitive difference between encouraging a little optimism and shaming others for negative emotions. Things are hard right now. There’s no negating that. Let’s come together and show a little love.