It can be discouraging when you’re going through a tough time. Trust me, I know what that feels like. I’ve encountered new lows for six months, facing rejection after rejection, as I embarked on a (fruitless) job search in the midst of a pandemic. But sometimes, it’s worse when you receive words of encouragement from people who seemingly don’t understand your situation. Toxic positivity sounds like the following:

  • “It’s okay, you’ll find something soon.”
  • “Don’t worry, you’re not the only one.”
  • “Just stay positive!”

These comments by well-meaning friends and family actually hurt more than they uplifted me. Heck, they even annoyed me and I didn’t understand why.

Toxic positivity is when people blindly ask us to search for a silver lining in a bad situation instead of listening and recognising that our negative feelings are also valid and natural.

While you may have heard your friends and family saying such things, or perhaps you’re even guilty of saying them to others, here’s why toxic positivity is counterproductive in helping us through a rough patch.

Toxic Positivity Examples

“Don’t Think About It!”

Image: Pexels/Riccardo Bresciani

Being told not to think about something makes you think about it even more, right? It’s the same human urge that tells us to press the big, red button with a “DO NOT PRESS” sign hung just above it.

The more you think about it, the harder it is to stay positive. But not thinking about how bad you’re feeling is equally as bad.

While we don’t need to ruminate on all the things causing us stress in our lives, it’s important to acknowledge these emotions and not shove them into a dusty corner of our minds hoping they just disappear if we ignore them. Why? Because minimising our invalidating our own emotions may lead to anxiety, depression and other mental health problems.

Looking back, I feel like we’ve always been taught to hide our feelings and be stoic through a storm. Just like how my mum used to tell me to not cry but smile instead after she just reprimanded me. It’s no wonder we don’t know how to emote properly!

“Positive Vibes Only!”

Asking someone to only stay positive is problematic because it creates shame around negative emotions like sadness, anger, frustration or disappointment. When we feel shame, we start judging ourselves and suppressing our feelings in order to put on a happy front.

But our emotions keep us safe. Yes, negative emotions too! Anger pushes us to protect ourselves and sadness shows us how much we care. Accepting all our feelings – both good and bad – is important for our healing and emotional regulation.

“If I Can Do It, So Can You”

Our experiences are extremely personal and such a statement can actually make us feel more isolated, instead of supported.

Not handling a situation the same way as others doesn’t make you inadequate or weak. We each have our different strengths and weaknesses and it is perfectly fine to feel the way you’re feeling. Don’t ever feel ashamed if your journey is not the same as someone else’s because no two people are exactly the same.

“Why Are You Upset When You Have So Much To Be Grateful For?”

toxic positivity
Image credit: Pexels/Lisa Fotios

In the face of adversity, being grateful can help you stay positive, yes. But it is also important to recognise that our hu man feelings are complicated. So it’s possible to feel sad, grateful, angry, lost, all at the same time!

Replace Toxic Positivity With Empathy

It’s more helpful to be reminded to be kind to yourself (or others) about how you feel. After all, it is healthier to acknowledge pain and voice it out as there’s always room for all of your emotions.

To sum it up, it’s perfectly okay not to be okay! We are human beings after all, not happy-all-the-time robots. So don’t let toxic positivity get you down.