What Is Toxic Positivity? 8 Steps to Maintain Healthy Optimism

What Is Toxic Positivity? 8 Steps to Maintain Healthy Optimism

They say that a positive attitude is the foundation of all success. It’s actually quite logical. Because when a person is in a positive mood, all problems suddenly seem more manageable and even ordinary days seem a little brighter. Even though it’s not always easy, it sure is great to stay positive especially in difficult situations like dismissal from work, break-up or being disappointed by a loved one.

It is at these moments that family or friends intervene to tell you that it will be all right and that you should think positively. Your loved ones are basically right. It’s not inherently wrong to be positive, but it’s not always possible. Even this seemingly innocent and great element of our psyche can have its dark side. It manifests itself when it forces a person to suppress real emotions just to stay positive on the outside. If positive thinking changes from healthy to toxic, it can lead to a serious problem. Today’s article is going to dive into the dangers associated with toxic positivity.

What is toxic positivity?

This phrase could also be replaced by the term false positivity, because it’s far from the real emotions you might be experiencing. It is a kind of strong belief that no matter what difficult situation you face, you should maintain a positive mindset. While it’s good to stay optimistic, the problem with toxic positivity is that it dismisses all negative emotions and replaces them with a kind of cheerful but false pose. Your positive thinking is then pushed to an extreme that denies any emotion that’s not strictly happy. And then, in the spirit of “good vibes only”, you allow yourself only positive feelings and deny yourself a healthy full-on experience that can help you cope with what you’re currently facing. [1]

Signs of toxic positivity

Here are some examples of toxic positivity from real life [2–3]:

  • masking and suppressing your true feelings if they are not positive
  • putting pressure on someone facing a devastating loss to focus on the bright side
  • reassuring a loved one who has lost their job by saying that it could have been worse
  • labeling people who always seem positive or don’t share their emotions as stronger and better than others
  • scolding someone for expressing their real feelings that are negative
  • putting on a “facade of happiness” and denying feelings of sadness or stress
  • refusing help or support in difficult times
  • expecting that the people around you will always be positive and happy
  • discouraging open and honest conversations about feelings
  • ignoring traumatic events
  • putting off problems
Signs of toxic positivity

The difference between healthy and toxic positivity

The goal of healthy positivity is that based on your own thinking, you can create positive habits that will help you manage negative thoughts, emotions and various situations. Unlike toxic positivity, healthy positivity does not reject these negative aspects of life. Instead, it actually allows them to exist without taking control of your mind. If you are positive in a healthy way, you acknowledge and try to process the things that are happening to you. [4]

Toxic positivity forces you to get these things out of your head. You try to mask your true feelings and put on your “always happy face”. [4]

Healthy vs toxic positivity

Healthy PositivityToxic Positivity
Accepting all emotions no matter how good or bad they are.Accepting only positive feelings.
Encouraging people to share both positive and negative feelings.Encouraging people to always be happy and think only positive.
Recognizing all kinds of emotions as part of being human.Avoiding what you really feel under the guise of positivity.
Supporting yourself or people around you, regardless of how they feel.Ignoring negative feelings and avoiding people who make you feel bad.

Why is toxic positivity bad?

While healthy positivity can help you cope with difficult times, toxic positivity does the exact opposite. It leads to rejecting, displacing or ignoring healthy emotions [4].

Toxic positivity forces you to:

  • Feel ashamed when you feel bad. If someone is experiencing pain, it’s necessary to realize that they have the right to feel these feelings. That doesn’t mean that they can’t find comfort and understanding in the arms of their loved ones. Toxic positivity, on the other hand, says that these feelings are wrong.
  • Feel guilty when you can’t find a way to be happy.
  • Avoid your authentic emotions that make you human. Toxic positivity works as a shield, or defence mechanism and when negative feelings appear, you often don’t give them enough importance and simply ignore them without processing them whatsoever.
  • ignore the chance to grow. It helps you escape negative emotions and also takes away the opportunity to confront difficult feelings, thanks to which you could grow and get to know yourself more deeply.
Toxic positivity is false positivity

The impact of toxic positivity on various aspects of your life

1. Toxic positivity vs your personality

It’s perfectly normal to sometimes not want to deal with your negative feelings. However, if you do this regularly and force yourself to look at things positively even when your feelings are the opposite, you might be asking for some mental health problems. For example, a 2018 study by scientists from Toronto and Berkley even suggests that people who ignore their negative feelings feel even worse later. Basically, if you decide to push negative feelings away, they will keep coming back to you until you deal with them. [6]

2. Toxic positivity and relationships

Not many people know how to talk about sad and unpleasant things that someone else confides in them. The most important thing is how you react. Trying to make someone feel better and not taking no for an answer would be toxic, because if it wouldn’t have the desired effect. You might try to push the other person away, which in turn could contribute to the disruption of your relationship as a whole. It’s hard to connect with someone if you don’t listen to them or aren’t willing to share their current emotion with them. [7]

Toxic positivity vs your personality

3. Toxic positivity in sports

Professional sports often take place in an environment full of perfectionism. This can put pressure on athletes to perform perfectly under all circumstances, and not everyone is built for that. People often turn to a defence mechanism in the form of building a feeling of uncritical self-satisfaction, which is a great environment for toxic positivity.

However, its influence can have serious consequences for athletes, such as a total inability to cope with loss or failure. Toxic positivity can also prevent them from reaching their full performance potential. It’s because this distorted thinking convinces athletes that they’re already doing well and discourages them from training harder. Then, a sense of complacency sets in, as a result of which they never realize the full potential of what they could accomplish. [9]

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It’s okay to not be okay

It’s important to mention that it’s okay to not be okay and you can’t just pick and choose the feelings you want to have. The same applies to people around you, whose feelings you should accept as they are at the moment. The fact is that everyone feels a wide range of emotions and they are all important to our well-being. For example, anxiety can alert a person to a dangerous situation, while anger is a perfectly adequate response to injustice or mistreatment.

Not acknowledging these emotions can mean that you’re ignoring your true feelings. But the problem is that they won’t just go away. Just talking about your feelings can help. A study by the University of California claims that expressing how you feel can reduce the intensity of your negative feelings. However, toxic positivity doesn’t allow you to do something like that, and that’s why its philosophy is rather harmful. [7–8]

It's okay to not be okay

8 ways to cope with toxic positivity

Despite the aforementioned problems associated with toxic positivity, there are various ways to deal with it.

1. Building empathy

Empathy is one of the killers of toxic positivity. It is about understanding other people’s feelings, regardless of whether they are positive or negative. At the same time, empathy gives the opportunity to look at things through the lens of the other person and actually understand what they’re going through.

Examples of empathetic responses:

  • I can’t imagine how you feel, but I want you to know that I’m here for you.
  • Is there anything I can do for you to help you overcome this situation?
  • Tell me how you feel

In these examples, you can clearly see empathy, not denying the other person’s feelings and not making them feel bad for having those feelings. It will allow them to better experience their emotions and get the feeling that despite the bad times, they are not alone. [10]

2. Recognizing and rejecting toxic positivity reactions

To be able to defend yourself against toxic positivity, you need to learn to recognize it. Let’s take Claudia as an example. She trained all year in order to shine in cross-country races. The race length was 30 km, and despite the fact that Claudia invested a lot of time in her preparation, she dropped out at the 15th kilometre and her dream of winning a medal vanished.

Toxic reactions from people around her:

  • Look at the bright side, at least you are able to run. There are many people who are not so lucky.
  • Nothing really happened. Look how nice the sun is shining today. You can’t let something like that ruin a day like this.
  • It’s okay, the world isn’t going to collapse. You could have performed even worse, so be sure to be happy and smile.
  • Don’t be so negative! Better focus on more positive things in your life and push away any feelings of disappointment. That will give you energy, you’ll see.

How should those around her react in a healthy empathic way:

  • I am really sorry about what happened. Do you want to talk about it?
  • I am sorry. Is there something I can do for you?
  • It was just bad luck. Even such days are part of the life of an athlete. How are you feeling?
  • I know you are disappointed and we can talk about it.

Claudia didn’t need to hear criticism for her performance, but the toxic comments mentioned above were not helpful either. Accepting the disappointment of her failure is the only action necessary for her to begin to heal internally and cope with this outcome. That’s also why it’s good to learn to recognize comments full of toxic positivity, which you can then more easily reject or simply not deal with. Accepting disappointment from failure is natural. [10]

How to recognize toxic positivity

3. Experiencing your feelings as they comeеп54к90

One of the important steps on the way away from toxic positivity is to experience your feelings thoroughly. This means that you have to admit all your emotions, even the negative ones. It may be difficult at times, but only in this way will you be able to solve the problems that these feelings cause you and continue to grow. One of the ways to face your emotions can be, for example, a conversation with your loved ones. However, if you don’t feel like talking about this to anyone directly, a diary where you write down your feelings can also be of great help.

The cornerstone of experiencing your feelings properly is to realize that you can feel sadness and at the same time have a healthy positive or optimistic outlook. You can imagine it as if you were alone in a dark tunnel. You are aware of this situation, but still you walk forward, hoping that at the end, there will be light. [11]

4. Take a break from social networks

Social networks are a great way to stay in touch with your friends. However, nowadays, they are full of various influencers, whose lives are followed by thousands or millions of people. You can easily come across content full of constant pressure for a positive mood. Photos of “always happy people” who present their seemingly “perfect” life are no exception. This is the perfect breeding ground for toxic positivity, because not all that glitters is gold.

The sheer volume of positive messages can turn true positivity into its toxic twin. Therefore, it won’t hurt you to take a break from social networks once in a while. Instead, pursue your interests in the real world, hang out with friends, or do whatever makes you feel fulfilled.

5. Self-care

One of the effective killers of toxic positivity can be self-care. It is practically a set of techniques that will help you support your health and psychological well-being. But most of all, to be more honest with yourself, no matter what difficult situation you are currently facing. Self-care is also a great way to cope with pressure in your personal or professional life, and to reset your mind and see the world with a healthy lens. [13]

You can support your self-care on three basic levels:

  • Emotional, thanks to which you can realize your emotional and spiritual needs, but also manage unpleasant feelings such as anxiety, sadness or anger. You can support it with, for example, relaxing activities, a trip to the cinema or a meeting with friends.
  • Physical, which combines reactions to the needs of your body. This will then reward you by making you feel better. An example of this kind of support is sufficient sleepmovement or water intake.
  • Spiritual, which deals with the meaning of life or spiritual needs. It will help you maintain a more optimistic approach to life or better cope with stress. You can support it, for example, by visiting a church or a trip to nature.
Self-care can help with toxic positivity

6. Meditation

Meditation is a great way to sit quietly with your emotions, whatever they may be. It will allow you to observe the state of your mind without having to react hastily to it. This way, you can observe your feelings without judgment and the desire to replace them with false positivity. Realize that you don’t have to control or direct every feeling you have as soon as it arises. If you haven’t had any experience with meditation before, don’t be afraid of it. Meditation is nothing else than different techniques for calming your mind with an emphasis on breathing. [14]

How to meditate

The following simple steps can help with your first meditation [15]:

  1. Choose a calm and quiet place to sit or lie down.
  2. Close your eyes and breathe naturally.
  3. Just focus on breathing. Feel each inhale and exhale. Notice the movement of your body, chest, shoulders or abdomen. Focus your attention on breathing without controlling its pace or intensity in any way. Try to breathe naturally.
  4. If your attention wanders for a moment, come back and focus on your breathing again.
  5. You can end the meditation after a few minutes.

7. Make known what you expect

One way to share your feelings without getting a toxic reaction is to make your expectations clear upfront. You can tell your loved ones before confiding that you just want to vent and don’t need advice. Alternatively, you might just want some help thinking through all the options that can solve your situation.

It is the clear explanation of your expectations that can prevent an inappropriate reaction from your loved ones. They certainly want only the best for you, but sometimes their reaction may not be adequate. If during the conversation you feel your confidant avoiding your feelings or trying to make you feel better with any of the mentioned manifestations of toxic positivity, don’t be afraid to end the conversation. It would definitely not make you feel any better anyway. [16]

How to avoid toxic positivity in a conversation

8. Healthy perception of failure

Acknowledging your own feelings as well as the feelings of other people is the key to healthy optimism. This also applies at times when your life gets complicated with obstacles or situations which don’t develop according to your expectations. Instead of trying to push failures away or view them as the opposite of success, see them as part of your journey to success. You can learn from your failures only when you look at them as lessons that can move you forward. [17]


Toxic positivity is simply a kind of false feeling that robs you of real emotions. It rejects everything that is not positive and turns you into some kind of insincere puppet with a constant smile on his face. However, it is not a way out of negative situations and has nothing to do with healthy optimism. More often than not it’s just a tool to postpone problems that will surely catch up with you sooner or later.

Instead of faking your feelings, you should focus on being able to accept them. Because that’s the only way to deal with them in a healthy manner. Life brings different situations and a wide range of emotions. It shouldn’t just be this long and relentless pursuit of positivity. Each of us needs to experience a range of different mental states, be it happiness, sadness or something in between. Highs and lows are a natural part of life and should be reflected in our true emotions. Only thanks to them can we maintain healthy positivity and optimism.


[1] Kendra Cherry - What Is Toxic Positivity? – https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-toxic-positivity-5093958

[2] Zawn Willines - What to know about toxic positivity – https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/toxic-positivity#what-it-is

[3] Samara Quintero, Jamie Long - Toxic Positivity: The Dark Side of Positive Vibes – https://thepsychologygroup.com/toxic-positivity/

[4] Najooka Javier - Decoding "positivity" and its dreaded cousin "toxic positivity" – https://www.thebridgechronicle.com/lifestyle/self-optimisation/decoding-positivity-and-its-deaded-cousin-toxic-positivity

[5] Toxic Positivity vs Helpful Positivity – https://www.jodiemelissa.com/2020/10/toxic-positivity-vs-helpful-positivity.html

[6] Brett Q Ford, Phoebe Lam, Oliver P John, Iris B Mauss - The psychological health benefits of accepting negative emotions and thoughts: Laboratory, diary, and longitudinal evidence – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28703602/

[7] McKenna Princing - What You Need to Know About Toxic Positivity – https://rightasrain.uwmedicine.org/mind/well-being/toxic-positivity

[8] Matthew D. Lieberman, Naomi I. Eisenberger, Molly J. Crockett, Sabrina M. Tom, Jennifer H. Pfeifer, and Baldwin M. Way - Putting Feelings Into Words – https://www.scn.ucla.edu/pdf/AL(2007).pdf

[9] Stephen Feeney - The Ugly Reality of Perfectionism in Sport – https://juniorrowingnews.com/the-ugly-reality-of-perfectionism-in-sport/

[10] 5 Ways to Avoid Toxic Positivity (and Why It's so Important!) – ​​https://www.trackinghappiness.com/how-to-avoid-toxic-positivity/

[11] Take Care of Mental Health, Let's Get To Know Toxic Positivity – https://www.bfi.co.id/en/blog/jaga-kesehatan-mental-mari-mengenal-lebih-dekat-toxic-positivity#toc-9

[12] Toxic positivity is a real problem — here’s how to avoid the trap – https://www.mytherapyassistant.com/blog/toxic-positivity-is-a-real-problem-heres-how-to-avoid-the-trap

[13] Nicole Martínez,∗ Cynthia D. Connelly, Alexa Pérez, Patricia Calero - Self-care: A concept analysis – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8488814/

[14] Filipe Bastos - Toxic positivity: How pseudo-positivity can hurt our health – https://mindowl.org/toxic-positivity/

[15] MEDITATION 101: TECHNIQUES, BENEFITS, AND A BEGINNER’S HOW-TO – https://www.gaiam.com/blogs/discover/meditation-101-techniques-benefits-and-a-beginner-s-how-to

[16] Jessie Quinn - How to Respond to Toxic Positivity – https://edit.sundayriley.com/how-can-you-respond-to-toxic-positivity/

[17] Alexandria Gouveia - Toxic positivity: 10 signs you're living with it and how to break the cycle – https://www.thenationalnews.com/lifestyle/wellbeing/2022/04/27/toxic-positivity-10-signs-youre-living-with-it-and-how-to-break-the-cycle/

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