Toxic Positivity: The Ills of Silver-Lining

Being healthily positive can include moments of doubts, sadness, guilt, worry, and struggle  

Credits: Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

August 20, 2022

A few decades ago, the discipline of psychology witnessed a new wave spearheaded by Martin Seligman, which focused on factors such as happiness, strength, wellbeing, and positivity. This school of thought aimed at expanding Psychology beyond its focus on mental illness, a concept that had dominated the field until that point and rove into a domain now known as ‘Positive Psychology’. 


Positive Psychology, in this respect, has been wonderfully successful, not only for those seeking mental health support but also within scientific circles. However, something that is often misconceived as a tenet of Positive Psychology, is the phenomenon of ‘toxic positivity.’ 

This is a superficial, forced, relentless and often desperate effort to feel positive or preach positivity all the time, and in all circumstances. It is remaining ‘100%’ positive, at all costs. The constant pressure to feel ‘OK’ while negating the actual emotions is what summarises the phenomenon of toxic positivity.

Credits: Mike Erskine

While remaining optimistic in challenging circumstances is good, it does not mean one needs to completely reject or deny their or others’ negative emotions and feelings.  


We may even be guilty of toxic positivity ourselves. In an attempt to make someone feel better, we often silence them, or dismiss their experience, whereas the other person might want to discuss their fears or concerns. This type of response might make the other person deny the reality of the situation which would do more harm than good. Additionally, negative and positive events are a part of life, and so are the emotions associated with them.Toxic positivity can be harmful to people undergoing stressful or difficult times. Instead of sharing how they truly feel and seeking emotional support, people may feel that their emotions are invalid, perpetuating a cycle of rumination, guilt and/or shame. 

Some Signs of Toxic Positivity:
  • Denying reality and dismissing the problem instead of facing it
  • Disguising one’s true emotions and feeling guilty about having any negative emotion
  • Using the “positive vibes only” mantra more frequently to camouflage your authentic emotions
  • Mocking or shaming people who are open to feeling their negative feelings
  • Avoiding tasks or situations just because they carry the possibility of exposure to any negative emotions to avoid the resulting discomfort

Credits: Photo by Daniel Salcius on Unsplash

How to Manage Toxic Positivity: 

  1. The first step should be to embrace the discomfort and accept the idea of not feeling happy all the time. 
  2. Limit your time on Instagram or Twitter looking for quotes like “always look at the bright side”, and “keep smiling”. It’s okay to cry sometimes too! 
  3. Meditate or invest your time in mindfulness activities. The renewed self-awareness brought by mindfulness helps us understand the varied ways in which we react to situations once we accept them. 
  4. Start writing a Gratitude Journal, as it could be cathartic. 
  5. Express your feelings to people whom you trust, or to a therapist. Accept the fact that change is a gradual process and asking for support is absolutely normal. 

In conclusion, one can be positive, but reality oriented as well.  Being healthily positive can include moments of doubts, sadness, guilt, and struggle as well. Allow yourself to experience the complete spectrum of emotions. After all, it is the colder days that make us appreciate the sunlight! 

Author: Nisha Phakey, TRIP Fellow, JIBS 
With Editorial Inputs by Samreen Chhabra, Assistant Lecturer, JIBS