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Is There Such A Thing As Toxic Positivity?



The short answer is yes.


What Is Toxic Positivity?

The Psychology Group defines toxic positivity as “the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations. The process of toxic positivity results in the denial, minimization, and the invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.” (See their Toxic Positivity table below and feel free to share it).


Although we at survivingbreastcancer.org strongly believe in the power of positivity we do recognize that when positivity is used to cover up or silence the human experience, it tends to become toxic. By denying the existence of critical thoughts, feelings and emotions, we may be setting ourselves up to fall into a negative state of repression, which can be a tipping point leading towards depression.


Let’s face it: as humans we are all flawed. We do suffer the ignominy of jealousy, anger, resentment, worthlessness, inadequacy and greed. And so we must face up to it that life can be overwhelming, painful and insufficient. So let’s not pretend that it’s all about the positive vibes or good vibes only; let’s not deny the validity of the genuine human experience.


Why Is Toxic Positivity Harmful?

Toxic positivity takes positive thinking to an extreme by not only putting optimism on a pedestal, but also, by denying human emotion. It can become a form of shaming as it sends a signal that our feelings are wrong. It can also cause guilt that somehow we are "broken" and need to "fix" how we are feeling.


There are also subtle signs that can bubble up when friends, family and colleagues expect us to "get over" something, brush off problems and to leave our personal matters at the door when we come into work; that we need to put on that smile and muscle through.


Are You Suffering From Toxic Positivity?

Top 5 Signs of Toxic Positivity

There are many telltale signs that one is approaching Toxic Positivity, including these top five:

• Feeling guilty for your emotional state

• Shaming others for their positivity

• Denying how you are truly feeling

• Minimizing the experience

• Hiding behind the veil of perspective


How to Overcome Toxic Positivity

There are workarounds to escape Toxic Positivity. Trust that your emotions play a critical role in your life and or recovery. Accepting difficult emotions serves as a coping mechanism, and decreases the intensity of those feelings. Recognize that acceptance when you talk about how hard your day was, or how you are having difficulty with your medical treatment, with your caregiver, partner, parent, friends or family. It’s important to relieve yourself, to get things off your chest, especially those negative vibes. It’s like lifting a weight from your shoulders, even if it’s more difficult than pretending everything is fine.


Emotions are not all positive or all negative. Instead, think of them as guardrails: They do help us make sense of life. If you’re sad about leaving your primary care team, it probably means that experience was meaningful, successful and reassuring. If you feel anxiety about entering the post active treatment stage, it probably means you are concerned about recurrence and or how you are perceived by others.


Feelings are not only a way for our mind to clue us into what’s happening; they also help communicate information to those around us. If we are sad, it may attract comfort. If we convey guilt, it helps the call for forgiveness.


While it may be beneficial to try to look on the bright side of things and find the silver lining in life’s myriad experiences, it’s important to also acknowledge and listen to our emotions when they aren’t as pleasant. No one can be a ray of sunshine all the time; as humans we just don’t work that way. In fact, paying attention and processing your emotions as they come and go may help you better understand yourself, and enable those around you to help you even more.



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