Toxic positivity at work: Examples and 10 unique ways to manage it

Toxic positivity, an all-too-common phenomenon, is like an excessive burst of sunshine on a cloudy day. It’s when a relentlessly positive mindset and positive outlook just take over, regardless of its realism or usefulness. While healthy positivity has its perks, toxic positivity takes it to an extreme, brushing off any hint of negativity.

After suffering a loss, some people could assert that “everything happens for a reason.” People often say things like this to comfort others, but it’s a means to shield them from suffering. When someone expresses disappointment or grief, they could say, “Happiness is a choice.” By not “choosing” to be joyful, it is implied that if someone is experiencing negative feelings, it is their responsibility.

When something awful occurs, such as losing your job, some people may advise you to “just stay positive” or “look on the brighter side.” Even though these remarks are frequently made in an attempt to be compassionate, they can silence everything, no matter what the other person might have to say about what they are going through.

It suggests that no matter the big deal, emotional pain, or hardship we endure, we should always plaster on a smile and ignore our true feelings. But here’s the thing: it’s detrimental. It invalidates our genuine human emotions and hampers our personal growth. Accurate and well-intentioned growth comes from acknowledging and addressing our positive feelings and negative emotions healthily and constructively. So, let’s strive for personal growth and emotional well-being by embracing the ups and downs that life throws.

How toxic positivity affects your relationships

Few of us are comfortable discussing depressing or uncomfortable emotions; we might make mistakes when we do. Even if making mistakes occasionally is standard and a human experience, it’s crucial to pay attention to how you react when someone tries to confide in you.

Kirkland states, “With toxic positivity, we want to make someone feel better, but it typically doesn’t have the desired effect; it silences the other person.”

An example of toxic positivity in a relationship might look like this: Imagine a person struggling with job loss and related stress. They share their anxiety and inadequacy with their partner, seeking emotional support. Instead of empathizing with their partner’s feelings, the other person dismisses them by saying, “Just stay positive.

Everything happens for a reason. Better things are coming your way.” While the intention might be a supportive approach to uplift the struggling individual to feel positive emotions again, it unintentionally brushes off their valid feelings of distress, making them feel unheard and invalidated, which can strain the relationship over time.

Toxic positivity can have a significant impact on our relationships. When we consistently dismiss or invalidate our negative feelings or others’ genuinely negative or difficult emotions with a “just by having positive thinking” approach, we foster an environment of invalidation and superficiality. This approach fails to empathize and connect on a deeper emotional level, which can result in feelings of isolation, disconnection, and mistrust. Over time, this erosion of the foundation of a healthy relationship can have enduring effects.

Toxic positivity can pressure individuals to present a happy facade, leading to inauthentic interactions and potential resentment. When we prioritize toxic positive emotions and disregard or overlook negative ones, we hinder the full expression and processing of our feelings and others. This impedes the development of meaningful and genuine connections.

To cultivate genuine and meaningful connections, it is crucial that we validate, respect, and respond to all toxic positive and negative emotions. By acknowledging and supporting a wide range of emotions, we foster an environment that encourages openness, vulnerability, and trust. This, in turn, facilitates deeper connections and establishes a stronger foundation in our relationships.

Toxic Positivity Can Cause You to Suppress How You Feel, Which Makes Strong Emotions Harder to Deal With

Toxic positivity can result in emotional suppression, making navigating intense feelings increasingly difficult. Continuous messages or expectations to “stay positive” or “look on the bright side” of a difficult emotion or situation can stifle genuine emotions of sadness, anger, or fear. Negating these emotions hinders us from fully processing them, potentially leading to more harm and heightened emotional challenges in the long term.

Unprocessed emotions do not simply vanish; they may lie dormant and resurface unexpectedly, often with heightened intensity.

Let’s take an example. Imagine a tough time like losing a family member or loved one. It’s overwhelming – all that grief and sadness. But here’s the thing: you’re surrounded by toxic positivity. You know, the environment where negative emotions are a big no-no. So what do you do? You bury those feelings deep down and put on a brave face. Even when you want to cry, you force a smile. But guess what?

This suppression can make it even harder to deal with your grief. It might even lead to more serious emotional health issues, like depression or anxiety. What is the healthier way to approach it? Let yourself feel those painful emotions again, reach out for support when needed, and give yourself the time to process your loss.

Toxic Positivity Can Lead to Shame

Toxic positivity can also lead to feelings of shame, especially when we struggle to uphold the constant expectation of positivity. The need to always appear happy and optimistic can make us feel uncomfortable and inadequate when we inevitably experience negative emotions.

For instance, consider a situation where someone is dealing with a chronic illness. The constant battle with pain and fatigue affects their mental health, and they naturally feel frustrated and upset. However, surrounded by a toxic positivity culture, they are repeatedly told things like “Stay positive! Others have it worse” or “You’ve got this!”

Instead of offering comfort, these statements can create a sense of embarrassment and shame for being unable to “stay positive” amid their struggles. This can exacerbate their emotional distress, leaving them with tragic optimism.

How toxic positivity affects your life

Toxic positivity can seep into every facet of our lives, leaving its mark on personal and professional connections. Picture a high-pressure work setting where the prevailing mantra is “keep a stiff upper lip” and “never let them see you sweat.”

Imagine an employee grappling with a difficult personal situation like a divorce. They’re compelled to bury their pain and don a mask of unwavering positivity. Why? Because they fear being judged or missing out on career opportunities if they dare to reveal their emotional struggles. This suppression of genuine feelings and difficult emotions, fueled by toxic positivity, paves the way for burnout, decreased productivity, and a surge in mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

That’s why it’s crucial to cultivate an environment that values emotional authenticity, encourages open conversations about challenges, and provides unwavering support. Let’s foster a space where everyone feels safe to be accurate.

How toxic positivity impacts mental health

Toxic positivity can take a toll on your mental health. It’s like this constant pressure always to be happy and cheerful, which can be exhausting. And you know what? It’s okay not to be okay sometimes. Ignoring or dismissing your negative emotions doesn’t do you any good vibes. It can make things worse in the long run. We must balance staying positive and allowing ourselves to feel all our emotions. It’s important to discuss our struggles and not feel isolated or alone. Remember, your mental health matters!

Toxic Positivity Can Lead You to Hide Your Authentic Self

Toxic positivity can often result in the concealment of our authentic selves. It forces us to wear a mask of perpetual happiness and optimism, creating a façade that distorts our valid concerns. Submerged beneath this mask are our genuine emotions — our fears, worries, and frustrations — all hidden from view.

For instance, in an attempt to constantly appear upbeat and enthusiastic, we may neglect or dismiss our genuine concerns of anxiety or discontentment. This lack of authenticity distances us from our feelings and hinders our ability to form genuine connections.

Living authentically involves acknowledging and feeling upbeat vibes and negative emotions. By shutting out the negative, we’re denying an integral part of who we are and, in the process, falling to avoid toxic positivity.

Consider the realm of social media. It is rife with posts depicting seemingly perfect lives and unceasing happiness and positivity. The constant exposure to such content can foster a toxic positivity culture, pushing individuals to emulate this false sense of perpetual joy.

For instance, a college student might struggle with academic stress and personal issues. Yet, scrolling through her social media feeds filled with peers showcasing their ‘picture-perfect’ lives, she feels pressured to put up a façade of happiness. She starts masking her valid concerns and posting about fictitious cheerful experiences.

This increases her internal distress and perpetuates the cycle of toxic positivity for others consuming her content. Ultimately, it is crucial to remember that it’s perfectly normal to have ups and downs, and social media often doesn’t reflect the whole reality of people’s lives.

Signs of Toxic Positivity

Toxic positivity can be insidious and often goes unnoticed. Recognizing the signs is the first step towards addressing it. One of the most common indications exhibiting toxic positivity is the constant suppression of your own negative emotions. It could be a sign of poisonous positivity if you feel guilty for having negative thoughts or consistently dismissing your feelings out of sadness, anger, or frustration.

Another red flag is when you feel invalidated by others’ insistence on looking at challenging situations on the bright side at the expense of acknowledging your pain or struggle. Other signs can include feeling disconnected or isolated because you think differently and cannot share your valid concerns or when you notice an excessive emphasis on positivity in your social media feeds, and it makes you feel inadequate or pressured to present an often unrealistically optimistic image of your own life, too.

It’s essential to be aware of these signals, as identifying toxic positivity is the first step towards fostering a more balanced and authentic emotional life.

It could be a sign of toxic positivity if you feel guilty for having negative thoughts or consistently dismissing your concerns.

8 Signs and Consequences of Toxic Positivity at Work

Constant Dismissal of Negative Emotions:

One of the most prevalent signs of toxic positivity is the incessant downplaying or outright undesired feelings. Employees may feel compelled to hide their stress, frustration, or disappointment for fear of appearing weak or unprofessional.

Lack of Genuine Communication:

Authentic and meaningful conversations become rare in a workplace saturated with toxic positivity. Rather than discussing challenges or concerns openly, employees might feel forced to maintain a façade of unwavering optimism.

Increased Stress Levels:

The pressure to always appear positive can exacerbate stress. Employees may feel they can’t express their real emotions, leading to a heightened sense of anxiety and pressure.

Burnout:

Constantly suppressing undesired emotions and maintaining a positive outlook can lead to emotional exhaustion and burnout.

Decreased Job Satisfaction:

Employees who can’t express their concerns may feel disappointed and dissatisfied with their jobs, ultimately impacting their performance and commitment.

Poor Team Dynamics:

Toxic positivity can hinder the development of healthy relationships among team members. If employees feel they can’t be honest about their struggles, it can create a barrier to establishing genuine connections and trust.

Reduced Productivity:

Chronic stress, burnout, and job dissatisfaction – all consequences of toxic positivity – can significantly reduce a person’s ability to focus and be productive at work.

Mental Health Issues:

Over time, toxic positivity can lead to serious mental problems such as depression and anxiety. Invalidating genuine negative feelings and negative experiences to stop toxic positivity creates a psychologically damaging environment.

Triggers shame

Toxic positivity can make you feel ashamed. You might start thinking you’re not good enough or flawed because you can’t always be positive. This feeling of shame can mess with your self-esteem and self-worth. It’s like being stuck in a cycle where you hide your true feelings, feel ashamed for not being positive, and then hide your real concerns even more. It’s a damaging cycle that feeds into this mindset’s toxicity.

Toxic Positivity Can Make You Feel Isolated From Others

Toxic positivity can make people feel isolated, you know? It’s like they’re encouraged to hide their true emotions. And when that happens, forming genuine connections with others becomes hard.

Think about it: picture someone who’s lost their job. They’re surrounded by always cheerful friends who don’t seem to understand how tough things are for them. It’s lonely. They’re not being heard or understood; instead, they’re just told to “look on the bright side.” But that only makes them feel even more isolated.

Toxic Positivity Can Make You Passive

Toxic positivity can also lead to passivity, a state where individuals are so engrossed in maintaining an image of positivity that they fail to take constructive actions when required. For example, consider Mark, an ambitious entrepreneur who launched his tech startup.

However, driven by a toxic positivity culture, he started ignoring the pitfalls and inadequacies in his business model. Whenever his team tried to address these issues, he would dismiss them and avoid toxic positivity, advocating the need not all to avoid toxic positivity and to “stay positive” and “look on the bright side”.

This constant avoidance of negative aspects led to an inability to identify and rectify crucial business flaws. Over time, his startup, which once brimmed with potential, failed to compete in the market and eventually collapsed. Mark’s story illustrates how toxic positivity can induce passivity, hindering an individual’s ability to recognize and address real-life challenges.

Decreases self-efficacy
Every emotion on the emotion wheel has some connection to survival
. We become less skilled and less driven at utilizing this information to solve problems when we ignore what our feelings attempt to tell us. If we think “it’s all we make of it,” we’re less likely to believe we can (or should) find a solution.

Impacts connection

The repercussions of toxic positivity on interpersonal connections are profound. Encouraging the suppression of negative emotions fosters inauthentic relationships built on pretenses. Genuine bonds flourish through shared experiences, both joyful and challenging.

The inability to express negative feelings, induced by toxic positivity, undermines trust and mutual understanding. This lack of authenticity can lead to isolation, as individuals feel unheard and misunderstood. Consequently, toxic positivity can create an environment where meaningful connections are hard to establish and maintain, leading to a lack of emotional support and camaraderie.

Toxic Positivity Can Harm Your Physical Health

Toxic positivity doesn’t only wreak havoc on your mental health but can also harm your physical well-being. Constantly being positive and suppressing negative emotions creates persistent stress and unease, triggering the body’s fight-or-flight response. This scenario can lead to an elevated heart rate and high blood pressure over time, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Moreover, chronic stress can weaken the immune system, making you more susceptible to infections and diseases. Additionally, the anxiety and depression resulting from toxic positivity can disrupt sleep patterns and lead to insomnia.

These sleep disturbances can contribute to various health problems, including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Therefore, it’s crucial to acknowledge and address the tangible physiological implications of how toxic positivity affects you, as it extends beyond the mental and emotional realm.

Press Play for Advice on Self-Worth

Understanding your self-worth is a crucial step towards overcoming the harmful effects of toxic positivity. It’s important to remember that your worth isn’t determined by your ability always to maintain a cheerful facade. Emotions are complex and diverse; feeling sad, upset, or anxious is sometimes okay.

To build a healthy sense of self-worth, try practicing self-compassion. Accept your emotions without judgment, and don’t be too hard on yourself for feeling negative emotions. Instead, acknowledge these feelings, understand that they’re a normal part of being human, and know it’s okay not to feel positive or to be okay sometimes.

Also, surround yourself with people who value authenticity. Cultivate relationships where you can openly share your feelings, both positive and negative, and feel heard and understood. This support network will help reinforce your self-worth and remind you that expressing your genuine emotions is not just okay but necessary.

Lastly, don’t forget to make time for self-care. Prioritize activities that nourish your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Whether reading a book, going for a walk, meditating, or simply taking a nap, these activities will help you reconnect with yourself and reinforce the understanding that your worth isn’t tied to the facade of positivity you present to the world. You are enough, just as you are.

Recognize that emotions are tools.

Emotions serve as valuable tools that guide our responses to an entire range of diverse experiences. They transcend intangible feelings and act as powerful signals, enabling us to discern what truly matters to us. By attentively acknowledging these emotional cues and comprehending their origins, we can make more informed decisions, foster healthier relationships, and lead a more balanced life.

Examples of toxic positivity (and what to say instead)

Emotions are valuable compasses that navigate our responses through life’s diverse experiences. They transcend intangible feelings and wield immense power as signals, guiding us toward what truly matters. By attentively tuning in to these emotional cues and unraveling their origins, we gain the wisdom to make informed decisions, nurture healthier relationships, and lead a more harmonious existence.

But let’s talk about something called toxic positivity for a moment. It’s when an excessive and ineffective pursuit of eternal happiness and optimism takes over every situation. It dismisses and invalidates the genuine human experience and emotional experience. So, here are some examples of toxic positivity phrases and what we can say instead:

Instead of saying, “Don’t be so negative,” try offering empathy by saying, “It’s okay to feel bad sometimes.”

Instead of claiming, “Everything happens for a reason,” show understanding by saying, “That sounds hard, must be hard for you. I’m here for you.”

Rather than dismissing negative emotions by commanding, “Think positive!” consider acknowledging their actual sensations with, “It’s perfectly fine to express how you truly feel.”

Instead of demanding, “Just be happy!” be supportive by saying, “I’m here for you, and it’s okay to share tough emotions and your thoughts with me.”

These alternative phrases embrace the authenticity and significance of all emotional experiences without belittling or dismissing the individual’s range of emotions either. Let’s create a world where emotions are honored and understood, fostering healthy, genuine connections and personal growth.

Increases stress

Toxic positivity can contribute to increased stress levels. When individuals are constantly told to maintain a positive outlook and suppress negative emotions, it can create an internal conflict as their genuine feelings are invalidated. This suppression can increase the sense of distress, as it doesn’t allow a person to process and express their emotions healthily.

Additionally, it places an unrealistic expectation to be constantly happy and cheerful, leading to feelings of inadequacy and stress when one can’t meet these expectations. In the long run, this can harm an individual’s mental performance.

10 Tips to Manage and Overcome Toxic Positivity in the Workplace

Here are ten tips as coping mechanisms for overcoming toxic positivity in the workplace:

  1. Practice Emotional Honesty: Encourage everyone to express their feelings without fear of judgement or criticism. Honest emotional expression creates a foundation for compassionate and supportive relationships.
  2. Promote Mindfulness: Mindfulness helps us to stay present and accurately perceive our emotions. Encourage mindfulness practices such as meditation or mindful breaks during the workday.
  3. Validate All Emotions: All positive or undesired emotions are valid and deserve acknowledgement. This validation helps break the cycle of toxic positivity.
  4. Implement Regular Check-ins: Regular emotional check-ins can be at team meetings or one-on-one. This helps everyone feel heard and understood.
  5. Normalize Emotional Breaks: Encourage employees to take brief breaks when feeling overwhelmed or stressed. This promotes emotional well-being and reduces burnout.
  6. Promote Work-Life Balance: Overworking can lead to burnout and increase the desire for toxic positivity. Encouraging a healthy work-life balance reduces this risk.
  7. Avoid Polarizing Language: Replace phrases that perpetuate toxic positivity with more balanced and emotionally aware language. This fosters a more understanding and supportive work environment.
  8. Foster Resilience: Encourage employees to develop coping strategies to manage stress and other undesired emotions healthily. Resilience aids in overcoming adverse situations without resorting to toxic positivity.
  9. Promote Peer Support: Peer support allows employees to share their experiences and provide mutual understanding, empathy, and encouragement.
  10. Cultivate an Inclusive Culture: An inclusive culture that values diversity of thought and emotion encourages authenticity and helps combat toxic positivity.

By implementing these strategies, we can work towards overcoming toxic positivity and fostering more positive vibes in an emotionally healthy and supportive workplace.

Let yourself feel your feelings.

Embracing our feelings is crucial to our healthy ways of getting to know ourselves better and caring for our mental well-being. It’s equally important to remember that it’s okay not to be okay sometimes, and feeling sad, anxious, stressed, or angry doesn’t weaken us. These are human emotions; we all have the right to experience them.

Instead of pushing these painful emotions and feelings away, we should allow ourselves to sit with them, understand their origin, and accept them. Doing this opens the door to self-understanding and, ultimately, healing. So, don’t be afraid of your feelings; embrace them. Remember, feeling our feelings doesn’t mean we’re losing control of difficult emotions; it means we’re taking control.

Work relationships feel weak and inauthentic.

Workplaces that cultivate toxic positivity often experience a decline in genuine employee relationships. The persistent pressure to maintain a facade of unwavering positivity can result in insincere and closed-off environments. When colleagues are discouraged from expressing their real emotions, particularly during challenging times, it can lead to superficial connections founded on pretense rather than trust and understanding.

Consequently, this impedes team synergy, creativity, and overall productivity. Striving for a balanced emotional culture in the workplace, where all emotions are acknowledged and respected, is critical to fostering authentic and meaningful professional relationships.

How to deal with toxic positivity at work

Addressing toxic positivity in the workplace necessitates a comprehensive approach to transforming organizational culture. Consider the following steps:

  1. Encourage Emotional Awareness: Promote the recognition and expression of emotions among employees. Conduct workshops or training sessions focused on emotional intelligence to foster growth.
  2. Foster Open Communication: Create a safe and non-judgmental environment where employees can freely share their experiences. Regular team meetings are an effective platform for open dialogue.
  3. Provide Support: Establish support systems like counseling or Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to assist employees in managing stress, anxiety, and other emotional challenges they may face.
  4. Lead by Example: Leaders should demonstrate balanced and authentic emotional expressions, allowing employees to understand that it’s acceptable not to be okay at all times.
  5. Train Managers: Managers play a critical role in shaping the emotional culture of their teams. Equip them with the necessary tools and strategies to manage their emotions and those of their team members without resorting to toxic positivity.

Remember, a healthy workplace acknowledges and embraces all emotions, not just positive vibes. By addressing toxic positivity, we can cultivate a more positive thinking, authentic, supportive, and productive work environment.

Is toxic positivity gaslighting?

Toxic positivity, the overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state, can result in denial and invalidation of genuine emotional experiences. When used to dismiss emotions or problems, it can border on gaslighting, creating a situation where a person’s reality, including their legitimate feelings, is denied or minimized.

What are examples of toxic positivity?

Examples of toxic positivity include phrases like “just think positive,” “good vibes only,” or “don’t let it bother you.” These phrases, while seemingly encouraging, can often dismiss and invalidate real feelings of struggle, grief, or pain, leading to a harmful environment of emotional neglect.

What are toxic positivity phrases?

Toxic positivity phrases are often well-intended but ultimately dismissive expressions that people use to minimize others’ struggles or negative feelings. They can take various forms, including expressions such as “Look on the bright side,” “It could be worse,” “Everything happens for a reason,” or “You’ll get over it.” While these phrases may be intended to comfort or inspire optimism, they often invalidate, suppress, or ignore genuine emotions, promoting a toxic disregard for emotional health and well-being.

What are the signs of toxic positivity?

Signs of toxic positivity may not be immediately apparent, but they have distinct traits. They often appear as a dismissive attitude towards personal or others’ distress, pain, or discomfort. People who exhibit toxic positivity may hide their true feelings, insisting they are always “fine” or “happy” despite challenging circumstances. They may also respond with cliché affirmations instead of empathy when others share negative emotions. Recognizing these signs is crucial to distinguish toxic positivity from a healthy outlook.

What is an example of toxic positivity?

Toxic positivity occurs when someone experiences a significant loss, like the death of a loved one, and instead of being allowed to grieve and express their pain, they’re told to “stay strong” or “be grateful for the time you had.” While well-intentioned, these sentiments can be harmful as they dismiss the person’s genuine feelings, forcing them to suppress emotions rather than healthily process them. This negates authentic emotional experience and can lead to emotional stunting and long-term distress.

What is the psychology behind toxic positivity?

Toxic positivity stems from societal expectations prioritizing happiness and optimism, often equating them with success. This creates pressure always to appear cheerful, leading to emotional invalidation and suppressing genuine emotions. This disconnect can impact mental health, causing anxiety, decreased self-esteem, and isolation. Acknowledging the harmful effects of toxic positivity and embracing emotional authenticity, accepting all feelings is crucial.

What is the difference between toxic positivity and negativity?

Toxic positivity disregards negative emotions, promoting an unhealthy, forced optimism. Negativity, conversely, obsesses over unfavorable aspects, often rejecting positive experiences. Both extremes inhibit the full spectrum of emotional experience, essential for mental health. The critical difference lies in their passionate approach; while toxic positivity suppresses negative feelings, negativity overlooks the positive ones.

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