Maintaining a positive outlook can help you stay sane during a crisis. However, it’s very easy to become so focused on staying positive that you end up denying any and all negative experiences that are part of the universal human experience.
Anne Silva, CEO & Founder, Tanglaw Mental Health, defines toxic positivity as “the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy and optimistic state at the expense of negative emotions and states that are part of our genuine human emotional experience.” She adds, “When an individual is exhibiting toxic positivity, they deny negative experiences—be it in themselves or in other people.”
Toxic positivity can be manifested both inward and outward, depending on your individual personality. If you who tend to internalize your feelings, you can often feel guilty for feeling a negative emotion like anger or sadness, so you choose to hide behind a mask as an attempt to diminish—or even dismiss—your true feelings. If you tend to project your feelings onto others, you may easily dismiss or minimize others’ negative feelings by telling them to focus solely on the positive.
Those who show signs of toxic positivity behave or speak in such a way that does not accept any negative emotion being experienced by themselves or others. For example, if someone asks why they are crying, they’ll respond with a comment like “I just got something in my eye,” or “I’m fine.” Or when they see a friend who is visibly crying, they’ll either ignore them or say something like “Cheer up,” or “There’s no need to be so sad.”
How to Reframe Toxic Positive Responses</3>
If you recognize that you tend to minimize or walk away from painful emotions, Silva suggests a you give a response that validates and comforts, but does not coddle, an individual’s negative experience