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Toxic Positivity: "Everything Happens for a Reason"

By: Anna Wang

What is Toxic Positivity?

Have you ever seen a “Good Vibes Only” sign in a home goods store? It would be pretty surprising if not, with the popular phrase commonly used to encourage a positive attitude. Although having an optimistic outlook on life is healthy, it is also important to realize life is not always smiles and joy. 

Toxic positivity takes optimism to the extreme while refusing to acknowledge any negative emotions. This mindset dismisses and invalidates an individual’s feelings and can make them feel unsupported by others.

Toxic Positivity

  • Avoidance and suppression of negative emotions

  • Forced gratitude and positivity

Genuine Optimism

  • Realize the future brings change and circumstances are not permanent

  • Allows room for complex emotions, not extreme positivity or negativity

Why is Toxic Positivity Harmful?
  • Shames/guilts: telling someone to “look on the bright side” not only invalidates one’s feelings but can also make one feel guilty or shameful for sharing their experiences

  • Avoidance: avoiding uncomfortable conversations is an avoidance mechanism that can be internalized to dismiss difficult emotions. Denying negative emotions also means avoiding struggles that can lead to emotional growth

How to Avoid
  • Acknowledge but manage: when grown out of control, negative emotions can lead to more stress. However, acknowledging emotions is equally important, and feeling positive all the time is not realistic.

  • Show support: when someone shares their difficult emotions with you, be sure to listen and be supportive. Instead of saying, “Everything happens for a reason”, try saying, “Your feelings are valid. I’m here for you” or ask “How can I help you feel better?”. 

Conclusion

Toxic positivity is a mindset that can seem harmless, but it is an avoidance mechanism that can have detrimental effects on an individual’s mental well-being. Thus, it is important to think of the weight of our words to others.

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