Generally, positivity is considered a good thing. However, there are situations where always looking for the positive creates a potentially negative, dangerous, and even self-destructive scenario.

“Toxic positivity” is a newer term for a pervasive issue. It is the belief or the sense that no matter how bad a situation may be, it is critical to always focus on staying happy, positive, and upbeat. This is more than a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” type of outlook. Instead, it is a falsely positive outlook that refuses to accept the very real issues and problems occurring in a relationship.

In unhealthy relationships, including in relationships with addicts, narcissists, and abusers, failing to see, recognize, and acknowledge the dysfunction and emotional and/or physical dangers of staying in the relationship is extremely unhealthy.

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Signs of Toxic Positivity

Recognizing the signs of toxic positivity in yourself is critical. Often this behavior is learned from childhood and can be linked to dysfunctional parenting. In these situations, the child was rewarded for always staying happy and never complaining or commenting on negative issues. In this way, staying positive became an unhealthy coping mechanism that carried forward into other relationships as an adult.

Signs of toxic positivity include:

  • Denial of “negative” emotions — Feelings of sadness, anger, resentment, loneliness, frustration, embarrassment, or other negative emotions are stifled and pushed down, replaced by false happiness and upbeat optimism that are not in sync with the actual situation and experience.
  • Invalidation of natural emotions — Invalidating natural emotions creates a lack of self-awareness and self-worth, where authentic feelings are dismissed and replaced by artificial feelings that do not match the event or situation.
  • Guilt about feelings — Feelings are emotional reactions to a situation. Having feelings should not generate guilt, but inappropriately acting on feelings in negative ways can result in guilt.
  • Inability to respect other people’s emotional experiences — Telling people they should not feel negative after an event and pushing them to feel upbeat and positive even when they express deep emotional responses.
  • Emotionally shaming others — Telling people that they have to be positive, that they are overblowing a situation, or that they have no right to feel a negative emotion are signs you may have toxic positivity.

Tips for Balancing Toxic Positivity

Positivity is not a bad thing when it is balanced with an authentic emotional response to a situation. Learning to be comfortable and confident in expressing a full range of emotions, and not just the positive emotions, can be a challenge.

Some of the most effective strategies to reverse toxic positivity include:

  • Therapy — Working with a therapist or counselor is an effective way to go deeper into emotional responses in a safe, therapeutic environment. This is also the way to discover where this coping mechanism was developed in life and why it is no longer healthy to use.
  • Journaling — Recognizing emotions as they occur and journaling how these feelings impacted your life in a given situation helps you become more comfortable in acknowledging positive and negative emotions in real-world situations.
  • Practice validation — Learning to respect the emotions of others as well as your own is an important skill. Practice listening and considering the other person’s perspective, respecting their emotions, and providing a supportive statement that does not negate their emotional experience.

    It is possible to replace toxic positivity with a balanced emotional response. This change takes personal awareness, time, and practice. However, it is worth the effort to experience authentic emotional responses in all relationships.

Do you see yourself using toxic positivity? How about someone you know? What steps can you take? What can we do to help? Be sure to share your thoughts and questions using the comment section below so we can all learn from and help each other…

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