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How to Recognize and Avoid ‘Toxic Positivity’

Three tips for ditching false optimism and embracing true positivity. 

How to be authentically compassionate

Anyone who has spent time around young children knows that the one sure way to fail to stop a tantrum is to shout at the little one, “Calm down!”

The same can be true of positive thinking. Forcing what is often called “toxic positivity” onto a person who is suffering is guaranteed to have the opposite effect from the lovingkindness that’s intended by offering platitudes like, “Turn that frown upside down!” and “Just think happy thoughts, and it will get better!”

Toxic positivity shuts hurting people down, rather than opening them up to asking for help, being seen and receiving support. Once you’ve learned to recognize toxic positivity, try these three strategies to avoid its depleting effects.

Prioritize Compassion
Compassion is a beautiful alternative to toxic positivity. Instead of denying a negative emotion or situation, hold it in a loving embrace, offering words like, “Feeling this way must be very difficult,” or “I can see how hurt you are.” Offering compassion is itself a positive action, without the distracting addition of false or pat optimism.

Expect “Emo-diversity”
Accepting our full range of emotions takes away the power of so-called “negative” feelings like sadness or anger to dominate our overall outlook. Make an intention to expect a diverse set of feelings to accompany you every day, and you will be better able to let go of the unrealistic notion that 24/7 happiness is the only “successful” emotional state.

Practice Authentic Positivity
Positive thinking is a meaningful and worthwhile pursuit, of course! Engaging in authentic positivity means looking honestly at your work, family, friendships, health and other areas of your life, and cultivating growth, support and improvement in all those areas. Try writing a list of attainable goals, taking a break from frustrating situations, investing your time in pleasurable activities and asking for help when you need it. With all of that pouring into your positive lifestyle, who has time to be toxic?

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