Being a positive person is not a bad thing, however, responding to other people’s negative emotions and feelings with responses such as, ‘Look at the bright side,’ ‘Everything happens for a reason,’ or ‘Just be positive,’ can make someone feel dismissed about how they’re feeling and make yourself look less empathic.
This is what has been commonly referred to as toxic positivity—the belief that everyone should always think and act in a positive way, even in times of true struggle.
By pushing these “good vibes/positive vibes” onto the people around you, intentionally or not, you are invalidating their authentic human response to trauma, challenges, and hardships.¹
It’s important to recognize that negative thoughts and feelings are meant to be felt like part of the human experience. They shouldn’t be ignored or suppressed, but welcomed and properly managed with the help of a family member, friend, coach, counsellor, Peer Support Worker, etc.
Instead of forcing a positive spin onto every situation, try out the following strategies to avoid toxic positivity.
Name It, Don’t Numb It
Minimizing negative behaviours does not make these feelings disappear. Suppressing can lead to an increase in anxiety, a decrease in sleep, and worsening levels of mental health.² Once your emotions have reached a certain level, those bottled-up emotions can lead to an outburst that could have been prevented.
Acknowledging and accepting how you’re feeling in the moment is a lot more effective than someone, or yourself, trying to find the “good” within the “bad” or dismissing your emotions completely.
You do not have to find the shining moment in a time of darkness. If you’re angry, be angry. If you’re sad, be sad. Sitting with your emotions and labelling them can reduce the intensity of those feelings.
Adjust Your Optimism, Be Realistic
An optimist is a person who is hopeful and confident about the future, despite any of their current challenges.
In most cases, it’s a great characteristic to have, however, being a blind optimist and thinking that everything is going to end up fine no matter what is a flawed outlook on life.
Being in your optimistic bubble cannot lead to any sort of significant shift, especially in our society. There is no change without anger, pain, fear, etc. Expressing those emotions doesn’t have to lead to violence—but justice.
Putting those feelings into action can create positive change within the Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, Latino and 2SLGBTQIA+ communities, lower socioeconomic families, homeless individuals, etc.
Looking at the smaller picture, you can always put your best and most positive step first, but also remain diligent about how you will achieve the end result.
“Bad” Emotions Make Us Human
Feeling happy when seeing your dog after a long day of school/work is a basic and normal reaction in the same way it is to feel upset if someone made a rude comment about you.
Emotions, especially as a youth, are a rollercoaster, and none of them should be caged because they are valid feelings to have—it’s all a part of being human.
Feeling and expressing negative emotions can actually be self-serving. Anger leads to disruption and change, stress and anxiety lead to building resiliency, and grief leads to self-reflection and appreciation for the people around us.²
Being happy or showing a false perception of happiness all the time is not going to fix the feelings you may be experiencing, and as a result, you may show others a lack of empathy in times when they just want a shoulder to cry on.
Take the ‘toxic’ out of ‘toxic positivity,’ by acknowledging and accepting bad days are okay to have, and feeling down shouldn’t be chastised.
If you or a friend needs support, please refer to the following youth-based resources:
- Call a crisis line, like Distress Centre (403-266-4357) or Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868)
- Call 9-1-1 or ask a friend to call for you if you feel you are a danger to yourself or others
¹Simone M. Scully, “Toxic Positivity’ Is Real — and It’s a Big Problem During the Pandemic,” last modified July 22, 2022, https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/toxic-positivity-during-the-pandemic
²CMHA National, “When positivity turns toxic and 4 ways to combat it,” last modified May 3, 2021, https://cmha.ca/when-positivity-turns-toxic-and-4-ways-to-combat-it/
You are not alone. There is help.
If you cannot find someone you trust who is willing to support you, dial a crisis line right away at 403-266-HELP (4357) All crisis lines are confidential.