Toxic positivity: what does it mean and how do we stop it?

Gemma Powell discusses ways to stop toxic positivity

Gemma Powell
14th December 2020
The excessive and ineffective assumption that despite a person’s emotional pain or situation, they should have a positive mindset: toxic positivity is a culmination of the millennial and Gen Z desire to rid themselves of their problems, through only ‘positive vibes’.

Unlike other internet-based buzzwords, ‘toxic positivity’ is one I can get onboard with. I have always hated phrases like “always look on the bright side of life” and “other people have it worse than you” because they don’t actually get to the source of the problem.

Toxic positivity teaches you that negative emotions are inherently bad and forces authentic human emotion to be diminished. Rather than experiencing an emotion and getting through a problem at your own pace, toxic positivity is symptomatic of a carry-on culture, made up of a British stiff upper lip and an the stereotypical happy American. This carry-on culture stops people from working through their problems, one by one, and often leads to burnout, where stress and depression have reached their absolute peak.

You don’t need a problem solver all the time

So how do you know if you’re a toxic positivity promoter? Well you are probably a Facebook meme sharer, that spams their page with phrases like “Failure is not an option” and “Everything will work out in the end” set to a pretty background. You’re not alone in this. My father’s life mantra is “everything happens for a reason” whereas mine is “Some people draw the short straw in life. It’s how you come to terms with that, that defines you.” Admittedly, not as snappy but coming to terms with unhappy emotions is not a short process.

Now, how to combat this toxic positivity in your life? Well sometimes you simply have to walk away from the Facebook experts. You need to find someone, who is willing to actively listen, not talk over you and let you figure your emotions out for yourself. You don’t need a problem solver all the time. It takes a lot of time to accept some problems can’t be solved.

Removing all toxic positivity from my life has certainly helped me realise that a glass not being full isn’t always a bad thing

It’s also time to learn a few new phrases to combat toxic positivity. “Don’t think about it” is a phrase that needs banning from our vocabulary. Instead, we need to encourage people to bargain with their emotions and accept what can be done about a problem (even if that it nothing) rather than cycle over the elements of what can’t be done. And one final phrase I personally want to rid the world of is “you’re not alone, other people are suffering with you.” Whilst the speaker was trying to be reassuring, the receiver of this message sees “life is shit for everyone/some people have it worse”. This isn’t great when something seems like the worst point in your life. I prefer “every problem is a valid one. No matter how big or small, you deserve the space and time to work this through.”

Acceptance of a life problem comes finally when you have undergone all the emotions that come with it. It’s a skill to practice and as a mentally ill person with constant and regular dips in mental health, I am no expert but removing all toxic positivity from my life has certainly helped me realise that a glass not being full isn’t always a bad thing.

Feature image: Pixabay @geralt

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