toxic positivity vs growth

Toxic Positivity vs Optimism: Embracing Authenticity and Growth

Original blog posted on the Art of Anxiety.

Let’s face it, staying positive is hard. Recognizing the difference between Toxic Positivity vs Optimism can be even harder.

When everything’s crashing down around you, or things just keep getting worse, it’s almost impossible to put a smile on your face. It can be especially hard when you approach a friend or family member to vent about your difficulties, and they hit you with toxic positivity.

I’m sure you’ve heard something along the lines of “Don’t cry, just stay positive”. Okay, everything’s fine now, thanks.

My way of looking at it is things will get better, but right now, they suck, and that’s okay.

Why Are We So Obsessed With Being Positive?

It seems like positivity is everywhere.

For example, “Think positive thoughts!”. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I don’t have any positive thoughts. They’re all doom and gloom. But I know once I  get my butt onto a yoga mat, hack into my happiness chemicals, and sort my mind out, I can find the optimism that I need.

But often, that only happens after a good cry.

Because sometimes, we don’t need positivity. Sometimes we need to cry and be angry. Honestly, the pressure to be positive and optimistic at all times can be overwhelming. While optimism is generally seen as a positive trait, there is a fine line between genuine optimism and toxic positivity.

toxic positivity

Toxic Positivity Definition

There is such a thing as being too positive. Toxic positivity refers to the belief that one should maintain a positive attitude, regardless of the circumstances or emotions they are experiencing.

It’s all about suppressing negative feelings and forcing oneself or others to focus only on the positive aspects of a situation.

This denial of authentic emotions can invalidate and dismiss genuine feelings, creating an unrealistic expectation of constant happiness.

What’s the Difference between Toxic Positivity vs Optimism?

While toxic positivity and optimism revolve around maintaining a positive outlook, the key difference lies in their emotional approach.

Optimism acknowledges the existence of challenges and hardships but remains hopeful for better outcomes.

Toxic positivity, on the other hand, denies the validity of negative emotions, pushing them aside. Instead,  favoring artificial positivity, which can be detrimental to emotional growth and processing.

Examples of Toxic Positivity

good vibes only

When it comes to toxic positivity vs optimism, one of the easiest ways to differentiate between the two is by looking at how the words make you feel. If you feel invalidated, angry or even worse, it’s probably toxic positivity. However, sometimes hearing what you need to hear can also be triggering.

If you’re not sure what exactly toxic positivity entails (and how to spot it), here are some clear examples of toxic positivity.

Being Negative Won’t Help You

This ‘positive’ statement invalidates genuine concerns and emotions by suggesting that acknowledging negativity is pointless.

It implies that only positivity can solve problems, ignoring the importance of facing and processing difficult emotions. As humans, we have to acknowledge that negativity has its place. But it’s not something we should get stuck in.

Good Vibes Only

This one seems to be everywhere. While promoting positivity has its place, the “good vibes only” mentality can be isolating for individuals going through challenging times. Suppressing negative emotions may lead to emotional repression and create a false facade.

Other People Have it a Lot Worse

This phrase is meant to put things into perspective. But it rarely actually works that way.

Comparing someone’s struggles to those of others dismisses their feelings and experiences. It diminishes the importance of emotions and discourages open expression.

You’ll Get Over It

Of course, you’ll get over it. But that’s not the point at that moment. This phrase undermines the depth and complexity of emotional experiences. It implies that time is the only healer and discourages seeking support or processing emotions effectively.

It’s true, but not useful.

Smile, Crying Won’t Help

I hate this one. Crying is incredible. It’s freeing, healing and allows you to release all the jumbled-up stuff inside you.

Forcing someone to smile when they are experiencing sadness or grief invalidates their feelings. In short, it creates a sense of guilt for expressing genuine emotions.

Just Stay Positive

Even just reading this statement makes me angry. While optimism is valuable, pressuring someone to be positive all the time ignores the natural ebb and flow of emotions. It’s hard to ‘just stay positive’ when the world is crashing down around you.

In short, not only does it suck to hear, but it can lead to suppressing genuine feelings and prevent personal growth. The word ‘just’ really invalidates how complicated something might be.

Examples of Genuine Optimism

genuine optimism

Toxic positivity vs optimism becomes pretty clear when you compare examples of the two. The above instances of toxic positivity really make my skin crawl, but genuine optimism, on the other hand, does the opposite. Reading these statements makes me feel warm, understood and allows for validation and growth.

Let It Out

“It’s important to let it out. Is there anything I can do to make this easier for you?”.

Releasing what’s inside is so important! This empathetic approach validates the person’s emotions and offers support without judgment, encouraging emotional expression and growth.

No Matter What

“I love you through all your emotional states”.

Supportive, accepting, and exactly what you need to hear if you’re feeling embarrassed about sharing what you feel.

This statement reassures the individual that their emotions are accepted and embraced, fostering a brave space for emotional vulnerability.

You’ve Got This

“You are so resilient, and your strength will get you through it”.

Sometimes this isn’t always the easiest to hear. It often makes me angry, even though it’s true. When I’m breaking down, I don’t feel like ‘I got this’. But this gentle reminder is validating, empowering and reminds you that you have what it takes.

Acknowledging someone’s strength and resilience empowers them to face challenges positively while acknowledging their struggles.

You Are Not Alone

“You are not alone, and there is support to help you”.

Asking for help is hard. But so is fighting all your battles by yourself. This statement has so much power. It reminds the individual that they aren’t alone, offers support, validates their feelings, and encourages seeking help.

It’s Okay to Cry

“It’s okay to cry; we all do. Can I get you a tissue or a hug?”

Being given permission to cry may seem trivial. Of course, you can cry. But sometimes, being told that crying is okay allows you to embrace the release.

This example of genuine optimism shows understanding and compassion, allowing the person to process their emotions naturally while feeling safe and supported. Crying is also great for your nervous system.

Things Are Tough Right Now

“Things are tough right now. Do you want to talk about it or do something lighthearted?”

The simple acknowledgement of how much things suck is so powerful. Knowing someone else sees how hard things are is validating.

Additionally,  providing options for emotional expression empowers the person to choose what feels right for them, promoting authenticity and emotional growth.

How to Avoid Toxic Positivity and Embrace Genuine Optimism

toxic happiness

There is a clear difference between optimism and positivity, especially when it comes to being overly positive. The words you choose play a key role in offering support rather than encouraging emotional suppression.

When it comes to toxic positivity, we also have to remember to look at our self-talk. Sometimes we come at ourselves with toxic positivity, and we don’t even realize it. Become aware of the language you use and try to replace it with softer, genuine optimism.

Balancing optimism with genuine emotional expression is crucial for personal growth and well-being.

Recognizing the differences between toxic positivity and authentic optimism allows us to create supportive environments where emotions are accepted, valued, and understood.

Embracing optimism in a healthy manner can lead to resilience while acknowledging and processing genuine emotions fosters personal growth and authentic connections with others.

Gentle Reminder

Remember, it’s okay not to be okay all the time, and embracing our emotions is an essential part of the human experience.

Cry it out.

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