How to Let Go of Toxic Positivity

The Nystrom & Associates provider consulted for this article is Stephanie Rafn, LPCC, Clinical Site Director, Outpatient Therapist.  There is no denying that leaning into a positive mindset is, well, positive. There are many benefits to looking on the bright side and cultivating a growth mindset. However, no one can think positively all the time. There is such a thing as taking positivity too far, which is where toxic positivity comes in.   Related: A Fixed Vs. Growth Mindset 

What is Toxic Positivity & Why Is It a Problem?

Toxic positivity is the belief that we need to remain positive no matter how challenging or difficult a situation is. It suppresses expressing our full range of emotions to instead portray a happy, cheerful disposition, despite feeling differently. Toxic positivity minimizes our difficult emotions and pushes an overgeneralized “positive vibes only” mindset.  The problem with toxic positivity is that it perpetuates the idea that we need to be positive all the time. However, suppressing our “negative” emotions makes things worse. While experiencing painful emotions can be unpleasant, it’s necessary to feel them so we can develop insight, move forward, and feel better; not just falsely portray that we do.   Moreover, toxic positivity is harmful because it leads to shame, guilt, and low self-esteem. It can stop someone from receiving the support they need because they feel as though they cannot express their authentic emotions. Instead of opening a conversation that might lead to helpful support, it culls it down into something they have to/need to figure out on their own. Which then leads to guilt for not being able to “remain positive.” But we are relational beings, and we all have times when we need to vent, communicate with our peers, and address our problems. Overall, we need to express our authentic emotions to relate with others and validate our feelings.   Related: How to Build Your Self-Esteem When we continue to perpetuate a “highlight reel,” we not only are not being true to ourselves, but we are missing opportunities to connect with others on a deeper level. 

Common Phrases 

Examples of toxic positivity phrases include:  
  • “Just stay positive!” 
  • “Look at the bright side and you’ll feel better.” 
  • “Don’t worry, be happy!” 
  • “It could be worse.” 
  • “Everything happens for a reason.” 
  • “Failure is not an option.” 
On the other hand, non-toxic alternatives validate the other person and open up a dialogue. This includes phrases like: 
  • “I’m listening, describe what you’re feeling.” 
  • “I’m here for you no matter what.” 
  • “That must be really difficult.” 
  • “I’m thinking of you.”  
  • “How can I help support you during this time?” 
  • “Failure is a part of life and can help us grow.”  
So, how do we let go of toxic positivity? 

How to Let Go of Unhealthy Positivity  

A few strategies for how to let go of toxic positivity when it comes to yourself, and others include: 

Recognize that Emotions Allow You to Process 

Our full range of emotions is normal and plays a crucial role in the human experience. Stephanie Rafn, Outpatient Therapist at Nystrom, states eloquently: 
Negative emotions are a normal and important part of life that helps us process big events. These emotions stem from a basis of survival and often can be interpreted as meaning that we care and are passionate about the situation. Allow yourself to feel those negative emotions and use them as tools to clarify your needs and guide your decisions along the path of healing and growth.  

Notice How You Feel Nonjudgmentally  

Don’t judge your feelings or label them as bad. Just notice when you’re feeling a certain way. Ask yourself what your emotion is trying to tell you rather than ignoring it. Emotions are tools to alert us when something is a potential threat, so recognize that they serve the purpose to communicate to us. Be curious. For example, say something that has made you upset and you are not certain what it was, however you notice yourself escalating into anger. Notice that escalation and get curious as to what triggered the emotion. Let yourself feel it through healthy coping strategies.   Related: How to Build and Maintain Healthy Coping Skills 

Encourage Expression & Validation 

Encourage the expression of emotions not only for yourself, but for your children, friends, and family as well. Healthy expression of emotion will help you or your loved ones deal with feelings instead of avoiding them. Rather than shutting them down with a positive cliche, let others know that what they're feeling is normal and that you are there to listen.  

A Word From Nystrom & Associates

In conclusion, toxic positivity is...toxic. Don’t be afraid to talk to someone you trust about your challenges. That may mean starting therapy to work through anxiety, stress, grief, and more. At Nystrom, we believe in helping people feel empowered and educated about their well-being. If you’d like to address whatever you’re facing – no matter how big or small – request an appointment online or call 1-844-NYSTROM to get scheduled with a qualified professional.    Follow us on Instagram for more mental health tips. Related: How to Start Therapy: A Step-By-Step Guide

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