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Toxic Positivity, and Why It’s OK to Not Be OK


May 25, 2021 | Published by

Do you ever feel wrong or ashamed for feeling bad? Have you ever been told (by yourself or others) to “just get over it” or “you don’t have anything to be sad about?” Two things for you: there is such a thing as toxic positivity, and it’s definitely, certainly, with a doubt okay to not be okay.

Toxic Positivity

So, what is toxic positivity? Put simply, toxic positivity is the belief that no matter how difficult or serious a situation is, people should be able to maintain a positive mindset. There are certainly benefits to having optimistic thoughts and being positive overall, but it’s unhealthy to reject difficult or “bad” emotions in favor of cheerful ones. Negative or difficult emotions can be unpleasant and hard to deal with, but it’s important for all of us to feel and deal with these emotions as they arise. We can’t remove or hide difficult emotions.1

Here are a few examples of toxic positivity in action:1

• Sasha just lost her job. Sad and concerned about financial stability, she calls her best friend for support. Her friend tells her to “stay positive” and “to look on the bright side – you’ll have another job before you realize.” The friend’s comments are meant to be sympathetic, but they can work to shut down what Sasha wanted to say about what they’re experiencing.

• Damon gets news that his father has passed away. Hearing this news, a coworker tells Damon that “everything happens for a reason.” This statement was made in an attempt to comfort Damon, but it’s also a way of avoiding someone else’s pain. To Damon, this statement could trivialize or downplay his loss.

• During a phone conversation, Emily confides to her father that she’s been feeling especially sad the past couple of months. Emily’s father tells her that “happiness is a choice” and that she should just flip the switch. The father’s comment suggests that if you are feeling negative emotions, it’s your fault and you chose to feel that way.

How do you know if you’re experiencing toxic positivity from others or within yourself? Here are some signs to look for:1

  • You tend to brush off problems rather than deal with them.
  • You find yourself feeling guilty about being sad, angry, or disappointed.
  • Instead of sharing your true feelings, you tend to hide behind feel-good quotes that seem more agreeable.
  • You often hide or disguise how you really feel.
  • People that minimize other people’s feelings because they make them uncomfortable.
  • People who shame or chastise other people for not having a positive attitude.
  • You do your best to be stoic or “get over” painful emotions.

When is it okay to not feel okay? Anytime. It is essential for us as humans to not feel okay sometimes. Being worried and scared when you lose your job is normal. Crying after a fight with a loved one is normal. Feeling sad and angry after losing someone close to you is normal. We must allow ourselves, and each other, to feel and experience these things as they happen. Considering all that’s happened in the past year or so, these feelings are going to be more prevalent for many of us. Trying to ignore or suppress these emotions will only cause them to grow stronger until we’re totally overwhelmed and feel like we cannot cope with them.2

Give yourself permission to feel your feelings–all of them. The next time you find yourself trying to avoid difficult emotions, allow yourself to feel them instead. These feelings are just as real and important as the good ones. In fact, these feelings can provide insight and help you see things you can work on or change. Now, this is not to say you should act on every emotion you feel. Sometimes it is best to sit with an emotion and give yourself time to process the situation before acting.

Tips to Avoid Toxic Positivity2

  1. Manage your negative emotions, but don’t deny them. Negative emotions can cause stress when unchecked, but they can also provide important information that can lead to beneficial changes in your life.
  2. Be realistic about what you should feel. When you are facing a stressful situation, it’s normal to feel stressed, worried, or even fearful. Don’t expect too much from yourself. Focus on self-care and taking steps that can help improve your situation.
  3. It’s okay to feel more than one thing. If you are facing a challenge, it’s possible to feel nervous about the future and also hopeful that you will succeed. Your emotions are as complex as the situation itself. 
  4. Focus on listening to others and showing support. When someone expresses a difficult emotion, don’t shut them down with toxic platitudes. Instead, let them know that what they are feeling is normal and that you are there to listen. 
  5. Notice how you feel. Following “positive” social media accounts can sometimes serve as a source of inspiration but pay attention to how you feel after you view and interact with such content. If you are left with a sense of shame or guilt after seeing “uplifting” posts, it might be due to toxic positivity. In such cases, consider limiting your social media consumption.


  1. Cherry K. What is Toxic Positivity? Verywell Mind.,vibes%20only%22%20approach%20to%20life.
  2. Sawhney V. It’s Okay to Not Be Okay. Harvard Business Review.,an%20abnormal%20situation%20IS%20normal.&text=We%20should%20let%20ourselves%2C%20and,more%20than%20usual%20right%20now.

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