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Updated: Mar 8, 2021

Here we are…already in November. Can you believe it??? When thinking of a new blog for November, the first thing that pops into most peoples’ minds is gratitude, as Thanksgiving falls this month. During this time, we naturally start reminiscing and contemplating over things we are grateful for in our lives. In this blog, however, I’d like to talk about something that’s on the opposite side of gratitude…toxic positivity.

Before we dive in, I want to make it known that I am not criticizing or diminishing notions of being grateful and/or practicing the “attitude of gratitude.” There are many benefits of looking at things in a more positive way and counting the things you do have, and not just what you don’t have. However, there is a fine line between this concept in all genuinity versus turning it into a more fake/toxic form of positivity. Let me explain…

What is Toxic Positivity?

Toxic positivity is a phrase or statement that invalidates and minimizes an authentic human emotional experience. “Toxic positivity is the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy and optimistic state.” These words can devalue one’s own personal struggles and experiences. These words, when used towards others, are diminishing of a person’s feelings and end up downplaying their genuine feelings. This can lead to feelings of guilt and shame for having these negative feelings. In return, it also tells that person that what they are feeling is wrong and they need to “fix” it. Not only is this painful for that person, it also reveals to a person with a mental illness that they are weak and that not always embracing “positivity” results in character flaws. So, what does toxic positivity look like, you may wonder?

Common examples of what toxic positivity sounds like:

“Good vibes only!”

“Don’t worry, be happy!”

“You are too blessed to be stressed!”

“Just think positive only!”

“There are worse things out there in the world!”

“Stop being so negative!”

“It could be so much worse!”

“Think only happy thoughts!”

“You will get over it soon!”

So, what do we do or say instead?

Instead of using these phrases, we can start by actively listening to their feelings. We can practice by also showing them acceptance, validation and hope. Showing the person some support and compassion can go a long way. When someone is having a hard time, struggling, or feeling down, using these skills can make a huge impact and show them we are here for them.

Here are some examples of how to show and portray that we care:

“I know it’s hard, but I believe in you.”

“It’s okay to feel bad sometimes.”

“That really sucks, I’m sorry you’re going through this.”

“It’s pretty normal to have some negativity in this situation.”

“Sometimes we experience bad things, how can I support you?”

“Things can get really tough, I am here for you."

What we say to others and the words we use can help/hurt someone’s feelings. We can start by just being mindful of the language we use. We can ask ourselves if we are communicating in a way that is delivered with validation, understanding and support.

This topic is something that isn’t spoken about enough. For the most part, I can imagine many people just aren’t aware that they are doing this. Not only are they not aware, they do not mean any harm or have any malicious intent when using these phrases. Now that we have more awareness and are more knowledgeable on the subject, we can start practicing this skill.

The more you know…right?!

Here's a visual to summarize. Enjoy!

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