Encouraging someone to stay positive can often be what they need to hear. Sometimes, though, it can be the exact opposite. Everything in moderation applies to positivity, too. If we’re too focused on positivity, we can find ourselves smothering emotions we need to process.
Positivity can become especially toxic if it’s offered as a cover-up or if it’s used to make someone be quiet. This is rarely done with malice. Most of the time, it’s an attempt by that person to avoid the discomfort of being around someone who’s experiencing negative emotions. It’s important for us to acknowledge all of our emotions, though, even the negative ones.
Toxic Positivity: What Is It?
The definition of toxic positivity reads as “an overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state that results in the denial, minimization, or invalidation of authentic human emotional experiences.” To put it simply, toxic positivity is denying the existence of negative emotions and their validity. A few signs of toxic positivity include:
- Masking how you really feel
- Telling yourself or others to “get on with it”
- Dismissing emotions as irrelevant
- Minimizing someone’s experience with “feel good” statements
- Shaming someone for their emotions, including yourself
- Chastising someone for expressing a negative emotion
- Refusing to acknowledge that something is bothering you or someone else
- Giving someone your unrequested perspective like, “At least it’s not as bad as…” or, “It could be so much worse!”
Why Toxic Positivity is Harmful
Understanding why toxic positivity is harmful can help you better understand how to deal with it. This insight can also help you better acknowledge negative emotions. Some reasons that toxic positivity is detrimental include the following:
Shaming What’s Natural
Negative emotions aren’t bad emotions. They’re very normal and they’re necessary. Shame can be damaging to the spirit. It’s one of the most uncomfortable emotions we can feel. Judging someone for feeling negative emotions can shame them into silence. We force them into secrecy and invalidate their experience.
Shaming can also cause emotional suppression. This means someone may hide or deny feelings to others and themselves. As a result, stress is stored in the body. It can actually increase how difficult it is to cope with distressing feelings.
Also, shame encourages sufferers to present themselves in inauthentic ways. We call this “masking.” It is much healthier to practice acceptance. Then feelings are actually processed, not stuffed or buried not lock them away. That’s how they can become a ticking emotional time bomb.
Being told constantly to cheer up or look on the bright side causes us to feel unseen. Fewer things are more devastating to a human than isolation. We are naturally social creatures. Our minds need genuine connection and socialization to function at their best. Living with the sense that they need to be perpetually happy to be around others is exhausting. Eventually, this may cause some people to withdraw.
How Toxic Positivity Fuels Depression
Minimizing someone’s feelings when they’re battling depression is not supportive or encouraging. They’re already struggling with dark moods, low self-esteem, and the strain their depression puts on their relationships. Invalidating that experience just makes things that much more difficult. Even if we say things with the best intentions, it can still cause significant harm.
It’s important to help someone with depression feel like they aren’t alone. But platitudes like “Keep your head up,” make it sound like their experience is a passing phase. It very likely is not. Instead, be an active listener and an authentic shoulder to lean on. It’s more helpful to encourage them to find care.
We’re here to help. Please reach out and connect. Let’s schedule you for a safe and confidential consultation. We can talk about what you’re feeling. We can also begin a conversation about depression treatment and possible avenues for support.