The Mighty Logo

5 Ways You Can Respond to ‘Toxic Positivity’

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

“Toxic positivity” is more than just a buzzy phrase — it’s a mindset so deeply ingrained in our society that it seeps into almost everything, including how we’re expected to cope with our health. If you live with a health condition, you may often hear people convince you to “stay positive” or “find a silver lining.” But this approach doesn’t necessarily work for everyone, and if toxic positivity negatively impacts you, here are five things to tell people who are “toxically positive.”

1. “Recognizing I’m sad or frustrated helps me process my feelings.”

If you encounter people who seem to expect you to be happy all the time and claim all other emotions are unhealthy or unnecessary, explain the function those less-happy emotions have in your life. When you don’t feel sad or frustrated, think about what those difficult emotions do for you and how they may help you feel more connected to your emotions. The next time someone speaks badly of your entire range of emotions, explain how expressing “negative” emotions may help you learn to process all kinds of feelings in a healthy, constructive way.

2. “All of our feelings are OK to feel.”

People who rely on toxic positivity may have been taught happiness is the only acceptable emotion or may even have been reprimanded for expressing fear, anger, sadness or envy. That mindset can be difficult to unlearn and may lead to fear around sharing feelings that don’t come across as relentlessly positive. Gently reminding others all of our feelings are an acceptable — albeit sometimes unpleasant — part of our lived experience may encourage them to start truly feeling their emotions and simultaneously affirm your own perspective. This response can be a win-win!

3. “My sadness and anger won’t last forever because all emotions are temporary.”

Some people who have a “toxic positivity” mindset may fear if they express their true emotions as they feel them, they may never stop feeling them. They may also perceive their less-positive counterparts as constantly negative and worry if they don’t stay positive, others may put a damper on their mood. All emotions — both “positive” and “negative” are temporary, though — and sharing a gentle reminder your emotions are fleeting may help remind others that even difficult emotions give way to more pleasant ones eventually. If someone says you’re being “too negative,” especially about your health, this response can show them no one has just one set of emotional responses.

4. “Grieving the things I’ve lost helps me work toward a more fulfilling life.”

If you’re grieving a healthier version of yourself, you may frequently encounter toxic positivity from people who might insist you stay thankful for what you do have. However, even though gratitude can help some people cope, processing your grief over the aspects of your life that have changed is a completely natural, healthy way to cope. When you find other people may be resistant to your grieving process, remind them working through each step of the grieving process and feeling your emotions as they crop up can ultimately help you work toward a fulfilling life. Chances are, you and the people who show you toxic positivity have similar end goals — and this simple reminder could help them understand just how much they have in common with you.

5. “My experiences aren’t all happy, and some of them really hurt me.”

Many people who’ve faced lasting trauma, like abuse, neglect,  domestic violence or the impacts of their own mental or physical health, may regularly hear “toxic positivity” comments that invalidate the severity and enduring nature of their experiences. If you’ve heard you need to “stop being sad” about a traumatic childhood experience or that your rough past “wasn’t that bad,” you may feel like your experiences and perspective aren’t valid or like you imagined how low your trauma may have made you feel. When people use toxic positivity to invalidate the gravity of the most difficult parts of your life, remind them your trauma continues to impact you even on your happiest days and express you feel invalidated. They just may change the way they try to help others in times of crisis or trauma.

Getty image by aleksey-martynyuk

Originally published: September 18, 2021
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home