We all love to focus on the positives in life, but what happens when positivity becomes too much?
When launching an online business, it’s critical to recognize potential difficulties and approach them realistically.
Constantly telling yourself to “just think positively” or “everything will work out in the end” seem to be useful mantras, but they can prevent you from taking necessary action or seeking help when it’s needed.
It’s normal to encounter setbacks and bad emotions. But, admitting them and addressing them is what ultimately leads to self-growth.
In this article we’ll explore the concept of toxic positivity, how to identify it, and the potential dangers it poses.
Toxic Positivity – the New Gaslighting
In the 1944 film Gaslight, a man attempts to convince his wife that she is insane.
The psychological thriller spawned the term “gaslighting” because it was so unsettling.
According to Merriam-Webster, this is the act of making someone question their own reality.
In the original gaslight film, the evil husband uses manipulation, deception, and emotional abuse to convince his wife that she has lost touch with reality.
According to the American Psychological Association, gaslighting “once referred to manipulation so extreme as to induce mental illness or to justify committing the gaslighted person to a psychiatric institution, but is now used more broadly.”
The term is considered to be more colloquial than clinical. So in accordance with Webster’s definition, toxic positivity is the contemporary equivalent of gaslighting.
Without Knowing It, They’re Gaslighting You
The problem is that this can be so debilitating to the unwitting victim. It encourages people to ignore life’s hardships.
Toxic positivity promotes positive thinking every minute of the day, no matter what reality is shown to you.
If you begin to follow the advice, you could feel ashamed or guilty for having any negative feelings.
Mental health researcher June Gruber says “people who report extreme happiness often run a greater risk of falling victim to mental illness and disease. They also engage in more risky behavior than others.”
Toxic positivity can ruin relationships because the person presenting the “positive at all costs” mindset can be deemed as a insensitive or dismissive person.
When people fail to recognize and deal with harsh truth, they can become unprepared for difficult times.
The negative effects of toxic positivity are often unintentional. As these people are often only trying to help.
A positive mindset can be good, but not when it is used to create a fantasy version of what it is, in reality, a difficult circumstance that must be dealt with carefully.
What is Toxic Positivity?
The Psychology Group speaks of this relentless positive outlook as “… the dark side of the ‘positive vibes’ trend”. They define toxic positivity as:
“The excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations. Toxic positivity leads to the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.”
Psychotherapist Babita Spinelli defines toxic positivity as:
“A belief that no matter how painful a situation is or how difficult, an individual should maintain positivity and change their outlook to be happy or grateful.”
“Inside Out,” a more recent animated movie that came out in 2015, has a character named Riley who is the perfect example of toxic positivity.
Throughout the movie, she is constantly trying to put on a happy face and mask her true feelings.
She is taught that sadness is something to be avoided at all costs and that happiness is the only acceptable emotion.
This leads to Riley bottling up her true feelings and not expressing herself authentically.
She experiences a range of emotions but tries to suppress them in order to maintain an image of happiness for those around her.
This ultimately backfires as she becomes more isolated from her family and friends.
The film highlights how toxic positivity can have detrimental effects on our mental health if we don’t allow ourselves to feel our emotions fully.
It’s important to acknowledge our negative emotions instead of suppressing them, as they serve a purpose in helping us process difficult situations and events.
Through Riley’s story, “Inside Out” teaches us the importance of embracing all our emotions rather than forcing ourselves into a constant state of happiness.
Toxic Positivity Examples
If you see a one-gallon jug containing half a gallon of water, how do you view it? Is it half-full? Or is it half-empty?
The answer to that question is used in the most basic psychological tests to reveal how you look at the world.
The person that sees the gallon container as half- full is supposedly a positive thinker. And the opposite is true for the person who believes the container to be half-empty.
Your opinion could be different depending on your attitude, recent experiences, and several other variables.
Even so, it brings to mind the question of positive thinking versus a more negative outlook.
Most people will tell you that thinking positively is the way to go. It is the road to success. Always think positively, and the world will bend to your will.
While a positive attitude can lead to many good things, embracing positivity even when life is difficult isn’t always the best option.
You might suffer from toxic positivity if you believe you should act positively no matter how dire, dangerous, or demanding your current experience is.
Here are a just few signs that your mental well-being and other aspects of your life are negatively impacted by your rosy disposition.
You Ignore Your Problems
“Think positive and positive things will happen to you.” This is the advice of so many self-help gurus. They encourage you to never give in to negative emotions.
The problem with this way of thinking is it doesn’t allow you to solve the many problems that will pop up in your life.
Ignoring negative experiences doesn’t make them go away. You have to deal with them, learn from them and move past them.
Closing your eyes and thinking positively in the face of a hungry, charging lion probably won’t lead to the best outcome.
You Develop Guilt and Self-Resentment
Toxic positivity doesn’t allow you to recognize the full scope of human emotions.
You realize you’re sad about something, so immediately chastise yourself. You’re disappointed about something and immediately feel guilty for those negative feelings.
You can never be your truest and most fulfilled self without embracing the reality of your emotions and becoming stronger by working through them.
You Minimize and Downplay the Feelings of Others
Your constantly positive attitude makes you feel uncomfortable around people experiencing negative emotions.
No one wants to spend time around somebody who constantly downplays reality.
You Disguise How You Really Feel
Putting on a false face makes you a lie to the world.
It also lets debilitating stress build up instead of letting it out by processing less than favorable emotions.
There are a lot of signs that toxic positivity is present. Sometimes we act that way to ourselves and sometimes to others. It’s often unintentional, but even when it’s not a purposeful action, it can be extremely harmful.
Keep your eyes open for these signs of toxic positivity. Whether you see them in yourself or others, try to change that way of thinking or simply remove yourself from the situation.
4 Downsides to Toxic Positivity
If you suffer from toxic positivity your more likely to feel uncomfortable when dealing with negative emotions.
Many of us do, but a toxic positive person is obsessed with thinking everything will be okay even when it’s not.
Here’s a newsflash … all the thinking in the world won’t pay your mortgage if you don’t have the money.
Toxic positivity is a sort of reckless optimism that can damage so many areas of your life. The “mind over matter” approach doesn’t always create the desired outcome.
Dealing with grief, trauma, or other negative emotions is vital to your mental health and well-being.
To understand how damaging positivity poison can be, consider these negative side-effects of a toxically positive outlook.
1 – You Never See the Bus That’s about to Hit You
Toxic positivity is an absolute refusal to face reality when things don’t go your way.
It’s equivalent to standing in traffic when a bus is about to hit you.
You can refuse the reality that something bad is about to happen, but that’s not going to keep this from being a very bad day for you.
2 – You Develop Optimism Bias
This is a term that is pretty much a synonym for toxic positivity.
This person has such an unrealistically high level of optimism under any circumstances that he believes he’s immune to negativity.
His positive outlook will be a bulletproof shield that allows nothing bad to touch them.
If this person is a smoker, he might be well aware of the many health problems smoking can cause.
His lack of concern because of his optimism bias can produce decades of smoking-related misery.
3 – Optimism – Realism = Potential Problems
Optimism is good. Untethered, runaway optimism without a realistic view of potential problems is a recipe for disaster.
Keeping a positive viewpoint while accepting the reality of any situation is a good idea, as long as the positivity doesn’t lead to ill-advised behavior.
4 – Unbridled Optimism Is Not a Magic Pill
Imagine that you have all the knowledge in the world. Then you sit back and do nothing.
Knowledge can be very powerful, but not if you take no action.
You also must act on reality rather than an ambitiously positive and fantastical view of a situation.
All the positive thinking in the world won’t act as a magic bullet to cure your ills.
You must take smart action grounded in reality based on preparation and knowledge, not just wishful thinking.
The Negative Impact of Constant Optimism
Your rent is due… once more. You don’t have the funds, and the deadline is quickly approaching.
To make matters worse, you were recently fired. You don’t have any savings.
Something good must happen quickly, or the sheriff will serve you with an eviction notice.
In this situation, most people would be very concerned. Many of us do not want to live on the streets.
It’s pretty nice having temperature control, a cozy bed, a roof over your head, and a pantry full of food at the ready. Indoor plumbing has its advantages as well.
Then there are the negative emotions that someone feels if they have to live on a friend’s couch or return to live with their parents.
Fortunately for the person suffering from toxic positivity, everything’s gonna be alright! 🙄
They know this because their optimism lets them ignore their problems… They tell themselves all this will all work out on it’s own.
With just a little positive thinking, their rent will magically get paid… They are strong believers in burying one’s feelings.
Instead, they feel guilty if they ever become sad or angry or let some negative feeling into their hearts.
So they take no action. Rent day comes, the sheriff knocks, and the eviction process begins.
Why Negativity Should Not be Overlooked
Most people in the above situation would reach out for help… They would do whatever was necessary to pay their bills.
Being realistic about what is happening is the first step toward overcoming this dire situation.
The toxically positive person ignores the situation because negative feelings are attached.
They ignore problems instead of dealing with them. If they start to feel sad or worried about this situation, they scold themselves.
They try to suppress their negative emotions and bury them deep within. This can result in the development of internal stress.
Aside from that, it doesn’t address the situation that they’d better get some money in their hands quickly, or they’re going to be out on the streets.
A positive mindset can help you, but when that positive attitude doesn’t allow you to experience negative emotions and face your difficulties headlong, your denial becomes toxic.
If you don’t flavor your optimism with a realistic view of the world, you can poison relationships, careers, and every aspect of your life.
Toxic Positivity of the Iconic Children’s Tale
Have you heard of the story of “The Little Engine That Could”? It’s an American folktale that was first published in 1930.
It gives a diminutive train human emotions in the hopes of teaching children the importance of hard work and positive thinking.
The tale is pretty simple. A long series of rail cars is full of toys, candies, food, and necessities for the children of a small town.
Unfortunately, the town is on the other side of a large, imposing mountain. Only the strongest locomotive engines have been used to get the job done.
The regular locomotive that runs that route breaks down. Other similarly powerful locomotives are asked to pull the train, and each gives a different reason for refusing.
A small blue engine with very little experience hears about the situation. She volunteers to take on the job even though she is nowhere near as strong as other engines.
She believes in herself and adopts persistent positive thinking, saying repeatedly, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can …”.
Even though she had never been over the mountain or accomplished anything nearly as difficult as you can imagine, she successfully delivers the supplies to the town’s children.
While there are a lot of positive lessons this folktale can teach children, there is one potential danger that often goes ignored … toxic positivity.
The Perfect Positivity/Negativity Recipe
In the case of The Little Engine That Could, the potential dangers of constant positivity aren’t mentioned.
What could’ve happened with no evidence to show that the engine could perform the task? Acting simply on belief rather than belief plus reality could have caused the engine to break down.
Then the children would not have received their toys, gifts, and necessities. Choosing a locomotive that was ill-equipped for the job could have spelled disaster for everyone.
Adopt a positive outlook… Just be sure you don’t ignore negative feelings or life events.
A combination of realistic responses to negative situations and a positive attitude that you can get through them is the recipe for success when dealing with life’s hardships.
The Dangers of Overly-Optimistic Advice
It can be difficult to know exactly what to do when your friend is having a tough time… All you want to do is help them in any way you can.
In some cases, you might even wish you could take on their hardship and suffer through an experience in their place. These are all signs that you’re a caring and giving person.
But even with the best intentions, we sometimes do the wrong things when we try to help others. It’s not for lack of effort, but rather due to us responding in a way that may worsen the situation.
You want to avoid this. So you ask yourself a series of questions. Should I try to cheer them up?
Do you tell them they have so many positive qualities that they’ll be fine? Maybe you offer to treat them to a night out with friends in a festive environment.
Perhaps you throw out a few of the positive thinking standbys like;
- “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”
- “Things have a way of working themselves out if you just stay positive.”
- “You’ve got this!”
- “Happiness is a choice. Choose to be happy.”
Your intentions are wonderful, coming from a good place, but constant positivity can be insensitive in some situations. Even the most painful human emotions need to be dealt with.
You can’t simply ignore them. Shoving positivity in your friend’s face can be dismissive in certain situations.
Your friend is processing a lot of negative emotions right now. Help them do that. Tell them you understand.
Telling your friend not to worry is not what she needs to hear to help her process her emotions.
Ways to Support Without Going Too Far
Toxic positivity can be harmful here. Not only can it kill your friendship, but it can lead to the suffering person making a difficult situation worse.
Let your friend know you’re there for her. Then back that up by truly being supportive in any way.
Don’t tell her how to process her emotions. Just let her know that you’ll be there to help her no matter her experiences.
You can create a positive environment by not being dramatically positive and unrealistic when a friend is going through a difficult time.
Reality Check: Does Optimism Have Limits?
Imagine that you’re back in school. You’ve taken an exam and aren’t totally sure about the outcome.
You did a lot of studying, so you’re not upset that you didn’t give it the old college try. How do you choose to think about your potential grade?
Dr. James Sheppard of the University of Florida believes that you probably became more concerned as the revelation of your grade approached.
He and other researchers wanted to see if college students’ expectations changed about their performance on a test depending on when they were asked how they felt.
Students were asked what they thought about their performance on a midterm exam before the start of the semester.
This is far in advance of the actual test. As it turns out, most of the students were positive thinkers. They had a lot of faith in themselves to do the necessary work in preparation to score well on the midterm.
They were then asked how they felt immediately after the test. There weren’t so many that were feeling good about their performance.
Finally, they were asked about their feelings moments before receiving their grades. At this point, there were even more worst-case scenario thinkers.
However, some students had a persistently positive attitude at the beginning of the semester, immediately after they took the test, and right before their grades were revealed.
The Danger of Toxic Positivity
Preparing for the worst possible outcome is sometimes the best option. As you move towards an event or result, thinking about what might go wrong can help you better prepare yourself for that possibility.
This is why people stock up on supplies before a hurricane. Though hurricanes notoriously change directions at a moment’s notice, smart people prepare for the worst possible storm path ahead of time.
In the research with the college students, those who consistently predicted a more positive result were often blindsided.
They didn’t score as well as they thought they would, and were shell-shocked. They were in no way prepared for this situation, and it was very difficult for them to deal with it.
People that entertained the possibility of a less than favorable outcome were often pleasantly surprised by their grades.
This is just one example of toxic positivity (always remaining positive no matter what) causing emotional distress.
This inability to see, process, and deal with negative events can be crippling. It’s been proven to negatively affect physical and mental health and well-being.
It also hampers your ability to brace for and recover from hard times as much as a realistic outlook that can help you prepare properly.
Toxic Positivity Versus Empowering Rational Optimism
“Look on the bright side.” That’s just one of many pieces of advice that commend the power of positive thinking.
Bad things will happen to you. There’s no denying that. You can’t always control your life experience. What you can always control is your reaction to that event or situation.
That simple five-word recommendation tells you to choose positive thinking rather than drowning in whatever negative emotions you experience when life doesn’t go your way.
That can be good advice. It can also be bad when taken to an extreme.
Positive thinking is usually a good thing. The most successful people in the world will tell you they didn’t get where they are today by constantly thinking negative thoughts.
The potential danger of this outlook is when it becomes a zero-sum game.
This is called toxic positivity. There’s no acceptance of painful or difficult experiences. Think positive! Keep going! No matter how tough your situation is, keep a positive mindset!
Here are a few reasons why this toxic positivity, as opposed to the empowerment of rational, positive thinking, can cause serious problems in your life.
Toxic Positivity Ignores Reality
Imagine you’ve fallen into a great hole. Invent any type of scenario that leads up to this eventuality, but the reality is you’re at the bottom of a huge hole.
You’re in the middle of nowhere. Your well-intentioned date with Mother Nature has turned nasty. You can scream your head off, but no one will hear you.
You console yourself that you had been walking on a nature trail when the ground gave way beneath your feet. Your toxic positivity says that someone will be by before long to rescue you.
You know there are lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) In the area. You understand this trail is not well-traveled. That’s why you chose it. You wanted some alone time in the wilderness. You also didn’t bring any water, food, or other provisions.
Even still, you nestle down comfortably and await your inevitable rescue.
The ignorance of your very dire circumstances could lead to your eventual demise, and in this situation, probably with a smile on your face.
Choose Positive and Realistic Thinking Instead
The positive thinker says, “I can get out of here. I know this might look like a difficult situation right now, but if I use my head and keep my wits, I can figure a way out.”
That person begins digging, climbing, and doing whatever he can to improve the situation… He thinks positively but not unrealistically.
He knows he had better aggressively attack the situation right away rather than just have a seat and hope for the best.
I’m not here to say that you should embrace negative thinking. That’s a quick path to a life full of self-doubt, failure, and resentment.
I just want to alert you to the very real dangers of toxic positivity. You must embrace negative events and emotions, deal with them, and move on.
Ignorance of reality or any negative situation you are in won’t usually lead to the best possible outcome.
4 Ways to Defeat Toxic Positivity
How can positivity be toxic? Can a positive person potentially poison themselves and others with a relentlessly upbeat outlook? How are you supposed to get over life’s many difficulties if you don’t adopt a positive attitude?
Those are often questions asked by a person suffering from toxic positivity.
This type of individual simply can’t see reality if it’s negative in nature. They adopt a “can do” attitude no matter how terrifically difficult or potentially dangerous a situation is.
They believe an optimistic approach to life can heal all ills and even prevent tragedy from appearing in the first place.
This view of life through rose-colored glasses raises the risk of developing stress-related illnesses and let downs. This person ignores negative emotions and problems that need to be dealt with.
There are plenty of negative side effects caused by toxic positivity… Here are four proven ways to keep this overly positive outlook from causing damage in your life.
1 – Practice Mindfulness
This is more than being objectively mindful and aware of your current situation. Take a few moments and think about how you’re feeling.
What’s going on in your mind and in your body? Don’t give voice to any particular thought or feeling. Just notice your present moment of existence.
Don’t judge any of your feelings… Acknowledge negative and positive emotions, and then move on.
This can help you realize that all feelings are equal, and ignoring negative emotions can aggravate a difficult situation.
2 – Feel Your Feelings
Your emotions are yours. You’re feeling them right now for a reason.
It doesn’t mean you’re less of a man if you cry. You aren’t less of a woman if expressing emotions is difficult for you. You are who you are, and your feelings are your feelings.
Recognize and process them without ignoring all but the happiest of emotions.
3 – Is Your Positive View Totally Contrarian?
If the whole world sees a situation one way and you disagree, you might be right.
Establishing a new and controversial viewpoint has led to some of life’s greatest discoveries.
In many cases, it’s toxic positivity refusing to let you deal with reality.
4 – Be More Childlike
Children don’t hold back their feelings. They live life as naturally as possible.
The youngest children allow their emotions to have a life. They don’t respond to negative stimuli with positivity and vice versa.
They experience life as their minds and emotions naturally respond.
The first step to preventing toxic positivity is awareness. You realize a constantly positive outlook might be a problem, proven by the fact that you’re reading this article.
That’s the first step to limiting your life with toxic positivity.
Starting an online business can be challenging, and the pressure to remain positive throughout the process can be overwhelming.
It’s essential to recognize that it’s not always sunshine and rainbows. There will be setbacks, failures, and moments of doubt that need addressing rather than brushing under the rug with forced positivity.
While maintaining positivity is important in any aspect of life, toxic positivity will hinder your progress and success.
Strive for balance between optimism and realism, embrace challenges as opportunities for growth, and don’t be afraid to seek support when needed.
Remember: positivity should not come at the cost of your mental health or business goals.