Toxic Positivity

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Consultant Tips” series, written by Charese Fruge on April 6, 2021 

I’m not gonna lie, I had to do a little research on this topic. The first time I heard the term “Toxic Positivity” was on a Clubhouse Panel last week hosted by Lisa Adams called “Women Behind the Mic,” which takes place every Wednesday at 5p (PT) (Yes, it’s a plug). I know it’s hard to believe, but I had really never heard the term before. It came up because we were talking about the over-saturation of “Positive Podcasts,” or “Motivational Podcasts.” We don’t need any more of those. I did laugh right away when I heard the term because I knew what it implied, and it was something that everyone participating in the discussion could relate to. As a matter of fact, I am writing this column specifically for Heather Lee, who said on the call that she expected to see an article on All Access very soon about “Toxic Positivity.” Well, here you go.

We all know the type. That person you want to punch in the face because every time something goes wrong, they feed you lines like “Everything happens for a reason,” or “If I can do it you can,” “Look for the silver lining,” or my favorite, “It Could Be Worse.” I am no “Negative Nancy,” but, NO IT COULDN’T. NOT RIGHT NOW, IN THE MIDDLE OF THIS CRISIS! (whatever it may be). Scientists say ignoring your emotions is unhealthy and could lead to further anxiety and/or a major breakdown. Sometimes a person just needs to have a “mini-breakdown” for a minute just to feel human. Then they can look for a silver lining.

Now, I’m not suggesting you become a whiner, or actually punch “that over-positive person” in the face. But after doing the research I found out that “Toxic Positivity” is a real thing and comes in many forms.

Let’s face it, we’ve all been there…. Denial. On more than one occasion we have all sat in front of a boss who looked us straight in the eye and said everything was fine when it wasn’t. I hate those manager types. You have to be a pretty good actor to sit across from an employee and smile at them like everything is great while the file on your desk is full of applicants you are looking at to replace that person. Man-Up and be honest. Talk to that person about what’s going on and give them advice on how to grow. I’d rather know that I am walking on shaky ground so I can get my sh*t together than have you lie to my face and then roll over me with an 18-wheeler.

And who are we kidding? A lot of times we live in our own denial. The industry is challenged right now, the layoffs and downsizing are brutal. And if you aren’t preparing yourself for “anything” that could happen, you are a fool. You shouldn’t be walking around with your head in the clouds like nothing is going on. You can’t ignore the problem and you can’t wish the problem away. You need to be working on Plan B just in case. And you need to be working on becoming irreplaceable even if your boss is saying everything is okay. What have you got to lose?

The pandemic is a HUGE challenge for “Toxic Positivity” syndrome right now. I can name at least four family members who maintained a “positive attitude” about the pandemic, ignoring the reality and science of the disease as well as the safety precautions. Guess what? They were the first (and only) ones to get the virus. And again, I am not suggesting you become “Negative Nancy,” or “Karen” for that matter, but you’ve got to find a balance between the good and the bad, and you have to have sympathy and most of all empathy. Anything else is unrealistic and will blow up in your face in the long run.

Here are several examples of how “Toxic Positivity” can show up in everyday life from the Psychology Group of Fort Lauderdale.

  1. Hiding/Masking your true feelings
  2. Trying to “just get on with it” by stuffing/dismissing an emotion(s)
  3. Feeling guilty for feeling what you feel
  4. Minimizing other people’s experiences with “feel good” quotes or statements
  5. Trying to give someone perspective (e.g., “it could be worse”) instead of validating their emotional experience
  6. Shaming or chastising others for expressing frustration or anything other than positivity
  7. Brushing off things that are bothering you with an “It is what it is”

The full article “Toxic Positivity: The Darkside of Positive Vibes” covers both sides of the spectrum. The giving and receiving side and how to handle certain situations. It’s worth the read: