Toxic Positivity

Back to School for Teachers
August 31, 2022
Be Gentle with Yourself
September 14, 2022

Toxic Positivity

What is toxic positivity?   

“Look on the bright side – it could be worse!” 

If you are feeling sad, mad, frustrated, or some other “negative” emotion you may be told to focus on the positive! An ever cheerful, smile-plastered-on-their-face person demands that you see the silver lining. Or perhaps you have been brought up to not be a burden, so your attitude is a smiling, “I’m fine” no matter how “not fine” you are. 

The Price of Positivity

Toxic positivity is the idea that you need to be positive – always. This results in pushing down your emotions and not paying attention to how you really feel.  Do this long enough and you lose track of your own wants and needs.  

What to do instead? Sit with your emotions, deal with them at your own pace. Your emotions are there to guide you and give you clues as to what to do next. Emotions are not the same as facts – for example, you can be frightened by something and, once you learn more about it, realize you are not in danger. Taking time to notice, “wow, that freaked me out! What is that about?” gives you a chance to learn from your experiences.  

Reframing Toxic Positivity Statements

Below are common toxic positivity statements and examples of reframing: 

“Other people have it worse.”  

Yes, and a different group of people have it better. What is the relevance to you right now when you are feeling terrible? Your emotions and experiences are valid and meaningful. When something sad, bad, or embarrassing occurs in your life, you have the right to feel your feelings. 

“Everyone makes mistakes, you will learn from this. Cheer up!”  

Part of the process of learning is noticing the full experience. How do you feel?  Where might you try a different approach?  Sometimes venting about the mistake is needed before you are ready to learn.  

“You have been through a lot; you are really resilient!”  

If you are a trauma survivor you may be fed up with this statement. Post-traumatic growth is a real outcome after trauma. But so is post-traumatic stress and the external or internal scars. The healing process takes time, can be complicated, and isn’t helped by a forced sense of gratitude for the skills or gains made. 

Feeling positive, experiencing hope, and acknowledging gratitude are also real emotions that can guide you and give you clues as to what to do next. They are only helpful though when they are genuine, when you are ready. Refusing to look at, talk about or experience the “negative” emotions is the toxic part. You have a full range of emotions; they are all part of your humanity.  

May you find the courage and support to hear all your emotions on this journey. 


Laura A. Gaines

To learn more, explore for tools, videos, and courses, and more.