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February 29, 2024
Toxic Positivity: Definition & Why It's Harmful to Your Mental Health

Shift Team

Ross Geller from the t.v. show Friends, saying his famous line, "I'm Fine."

How Does Toxic Positivity Impact Mental Health?

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Everyone experiences a complete spectrum of emotions — it's part of being human. You may have heard the mantra, "Always stay positive!" ringing in your ears. But let's face it: life isn't always positive. From joy to sorrow, life serves up a full platter of emotions. The truth is, it's unrealistic and even unhealthy to maintain a perpetually sunny disposition. As International Day of Happiness approaches, we thought it was fitting to unravel the differences between practicing gratitude versus engaging in toxic positivity, why it's completely okay—even necessary—to have a not-so-positive mindset at times, and why embracing all of your feelings is crucial to your well-being.

What is The Difference Between Gratitude and Toxic Positivity?

This difference is primarily rooted in authenticity and emotional acceptance. When you practice gratitude, you recognize the good in your life and express thankfulness for it. This doesn't mean ignoring or avoiding hardships but rather choosing to acknowledge the brighter side of things, even in difficult times. Gratitude is a mindfulness practice, and it springs from an authentic place within you. 

In contrast, toxic positivity is the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations. It denotes a culture of dismissiveness, where negative emotions and experiences are invalidated and brushed aside. The concept promotes the idea that we should always appear 'happy', regardless of what's happening in our lives. 

While gratitude uses positivity to improve our emotional health and perspective, toxic positivity shuts down our capacity to experience our genuine feelings. Gratitude accepts the full range of human emotions, reassuring us that it’s okay to not be okay sometimes. On the other hand, toxic positivity breeds denial and avoidance. It tends to dismiss the reality and complexity of our human emotional experiences. In short, gratitude is about accepting reality, both the good and the bad, while toxic positivity denies anything that isn't relentlessly positive. With the guidance of our therapists, you can learn to incorporate practices of gratitude into your daily routine to help you experience these benefits.

What Are Some Signs of Toxic Positivity?

Toxic positivity often manifests in a variety of ways. One of the most common signs is the constant dismissal or invalidation of personal feelings, particularly those that are seen as negative or upsetting. You find yourself always brushing aside your worries, fears, or disappointments to maintain a cheery façade. 

Next, you might notice an excessive generalization of experience, where every situation—no matter how dire—is spun into a positive light. This perspective denies the reality of complex emotions and impedes the individual's ability to process them fully. 

A further sign is an unbearable pressure to always appear happy, joyful, or content—even when it’s painfully not the case. This could leave you feeling emotionally suppressed and anxious about being authentic in your emotional expression. 

Lastly, a sign of toxic positivity is a radical avoidance of people who are dealing with difficult situations. This is because their hardship might challenge your optimistic perspective, so you opt to distance yourself. 

Recognizing these signs is the first step toward addressing toxic positivity. Remember, it’s absolutely okay to experience a full range of emotions, the so-called good and the bad. In fact, this is a healthy, human way to respond to life’s many experiences.

While it's tempting to always strive for a positive outlook, forcing it can actually limit your potential for genuine joy and authenticity. There's no need to put on a happiness facade when you're feeling down or going through a rough patch. Your feelings are valid, and it's essential to acknowledge each emotion as it comes. This is not a weakness but a part of being human. 

There's a difference between nurturing an overall positive outlook and suppressing every negative thought. Life is filled with ups and downs. Sometimes, things don't go as planned. These moments can feel disappointing, stressful, or even heartbreaking. It's important to let yourself feel these emotions without the compulsion to instantly flip them into something positive. 

It's also valuable to understand that your emotions serve as internal cues. They help guide your responses and behaviours to different situations. For example, feelings of disappointment may indicate that something didn't meet your values or expectations, while anger may suggest that your boundaries are being crossed. Instead of rejecting these signals, try to acknowledge them and allow yourself to explore what these feelings mean. 

Remember, it's alright to not be okay all the time. Permit yourself to express and feel your authentic emotions, however uncomfortable they may be. By accepting your entire emotional spectrum, you'll enhance your understanding of yourself and foster a deeper, healthier connection with your feelings.

How Can I Practice Gratitude Without Falling Into Toxic Positivity?

Practicing gratitude while avoiding the trap of toxic positivity involves striking the right balance. It's about acknowledging the good in your life devoid of dismissing the challenging experiences or emotions. We'll discuss how to smoothly navigate this: 

Be authentic: Genuine gratitude emanates from the heart. It's alright if you don't feel grateful every moment. Admit your current emotional state, whether it's frustration, anxiety, or sadness. Only then can you find something to appreciate amid the struggle. 

Acknowledge your full emotional range: Yes, it's great to remain positive, but you shouldn't ignore the entire emotional palette. Acquaint yourself with the not-so-pleasant feelings you may experience, like anger or sadness. Embracing these emotions doesn't make you negative; instead, it makes you human. 

Express gratitude in a personal way: Seeking gratitude doesn’t mean you need to give thanks for things that you truly don't feel grateful for. Discover and focus on what truly sparks joy and gratitude in you. This personal truth differentiates between authentic gratitude and forced positivity. 

Seek support: Gratitude is not a remedy for severe emotional challenges. If you're dealing with such issues, it's essential to seek professional help. Remember, it's okay to need assistance, and acknowledging this need can be an act of gratitude in itself. Our online therapists, who are located across Canada, offer exceptional mental health care via online therapy and are ready to meet you wherever you’re at! Ready to prioritize your well-being? Get started here!

Ultimately, navigating the path from gratitude to positivity and steering clear of toxic positivity is a personal experience filled with self-discovery and growth. It's a journey, not a destination. So, give yourself the compassion and patience you need to walk this path. 

What Are The Benefits of Embracing The Full Spectrum of Emotions?

Fully embracing your emotions, both positive and negative, can be transformative for your mental well-being, personal relationships and self-perception. Let's examine why. 

First, recognizing and accepting all your emotions enhances your self-awareness. It's like peeling back the layers of an onion, revealing deeper insights about yourself. By denying yourself the opportunity to experience negative emotions, you shut down a vital avenue for self-discovery and personal growth. Self-awareness fosters better decision-making and responsiveness to life's ups and downs. 

Second, acknowledging all your emotions can strengthen your personal relationships. Bottling up emotions can create stress and resentment over time. By expressing your feelings, you foster a stronger bond with those around you. It paves the way for mutual understanding, respect, and empathy, which are crucial foundations for solid relationships. 

Third, embracing a full range of emotions can help you cultivate resilience. Experiencing a range of feelings, including negative ones, equips you to better handle life’s challenges. Resilience is not about being unaffected by difficulties; it’s about going through them, feeling the full impact, and coming out the other side stronger. 

Finally, acknowledging all your feelings can also contribute to mental health. It might seem counterintuitive, but allowing yourself to feel sad, angry, or fearful can actually help prevent mental health conditions like depression or anxiety. These feelings are a natural part of life, and facing them head-on promotes psychological flexibility and emotional regulation. 

While it's absolutely fine to strive for positivity, remember that it's okay, and in fact beneficial, to also experience and express the full range of human emotions. 

Join Our Virtual Event to Learn More on Toxic Positivity & Gratitude

We've all heard the classics: "Just be positive!" and "Good vibes only!" But what about embracing all of our emotions? That's right; it's okay to not always give a f*ck! Join Shift Collab therapists Zoya Sheikh and Emily Crocker as they dive into the world of toxic positivity and why being positive all the time can be just as harmful to your mental health. Click here to save your spot! 

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