Toxic Positivity: The Dark Side Of Positive Thinking

Imagine waking up to your alarm at 6.30 snoozing your alarm and when you open your eyes again it’s already 9 am. You are late for your destination and when you get up and rush to the washroom the power is cut off. You get ready in the light of your phone flashlight because your emergency light is not charged, only to find that a button on your clothes has come off. You change your clothes again and rush towards your destination but you can find no cabs.

By the time you actually reach your destination, you are already 2 hours late. Your entire day starts late. You are hungry since morning and the opportunity for which you came here is lost now. You go back home and on the way up to your apartment, the lift stops midway. You are stuck in the lift for a long time before someone came to rescue you. When you come to your door you realize you have lost the key to your apartment. Your good neighbor allows you into their home, makes you a cup of tea and you start to vent out about your day. And then comes a statement ‘ It’s not so bad, look on the brighter side and be grateful for what you have.’

Now ask yourself truly how would you feel.

What is Toxic Positivity?

Toxic Positivity is the dark side of the ‘Think Positive Only’ obsession. While I am definitely on board the ‘Optimism and positive thinking’ wagon we need to be aware when this positivity turns into toxicity. Being positive is good but ignoring the existence of a full spectrum of emotions for the ‘Good Vibes Only’ compartment is what becomes dangerous for your mental health. It minimizes the experiences and emotions that you are actually going through.

How did Toxic Positivity became a part of our lives?

Every time I go to social media, Instagram, Facebook, or any other platform, I see at least a dozen posts with quotes on happiness, positivity, and gratitude. There are so many people posting so much content online and most of it is positive. The day I had a setback in my work, I went on Facebook to take my mind off. I read a quote about how I should be grateful for what I have. It made me think – ‘ Why am I so upset? It’s a minor setback. I should be grateful for having such a loving family, such a loving husband. I realized that instead of actually feeling grateful for what I had, I started feeling guilty. I was guilty that I was not being grateful for what I had. That I was spreading negativity and I was not happy when I should be. I felt guilty about feeling what I was feeling. And all this happened to me when I am a trained therapist and a life coach.

This day made me realize that positivity can actually be toxic.

Every day on social media you see and hear immense content on positivity. Then you meet people who are inspired by that same social media tells you to be positive. Everyone around you is trying to make you forget every negative emotion that you are going through and telling you to only let positive vibes around you. They say it will make you feel better. I thought so too until I did not.

As a therapist, I always inspired my clients to be aware of their emotional states and accept themselves as they are, and here I was feeling guilty about not feeling happy about myself.

That is how I realized that Toxic Positivity had become a part of our lives.

So should we not be positive?

One should be optimistic in life, and I for one would never ever say don’t be optimistic. My entire life I have been hearing from friends and colleagues that they love how optimistic I am. I want to continue that and so should you. But there is a difference between being optimistic and toxic positivity. Being positive all the time is actually ignoring all the other emotions that you go through which is detrimental to your mental health. What I would suggest you do is accept your realize and release your emotions. So instead of being upset about being upset, acknowledge how you feel. Build a relationship with your emotion and most importantly remember that your emotions are not your identity. Optimism is not about rejecting your negative emotions but thinking that things can be brighter in the future. Be optimistic but practically.

The Statements That Project Toxic Positivity

“Don’t be so negative.”

“You should be grateful for what you have.”

“Have good vibes only”

“Always look on the brighter side.”

“It could be worse than it is”

“You’ll get over it”

“It is all in your mind”

“Don’t talk about what is wrong, talk about what is right.”

“Quitting is not an option.”

“Bad times make you stronger.”

and so on.

What is real optimism?

Optimism is not about neglecting the facts but it is about having hope. I agree that what you feed your mind is very important but it is not reading the positive thought or hearing positive talks that will take you to the top but the belief in yourself, in your capabilities that will help you get there. Failures and negative events are part of your life and negating them, is like living in a dream world. Optimism doesn’t force you to live in a dream world. Optimism is reminding yourself that every negative event is limited, it’s an isolated incidence and is external. A negative event in your life is not who you are, but that doesn’t mean that you are not allowed to feel bad about it.

What Hope and Optimism Sound Like?

“You are not alone. I am there to support you.”

“It is okay not to be okay.”

“This is hard, but I believe in you”

“It’s ok to give up some times.”

“I understand. I hear you.”

The story that we started our article with was the story of one bad day. Think about people who are going through such phases in their life. Where every single day is a fight to survive and make life liveable. Be optimistic but do not support toxic positivity. You can be sad, angry, jealous, overwhelmed, anxious, upset, drained, unsure, or afraid, and still be optimistic.


  1. Patrick says:

    I’ve been guilty of this in the past, but truly, everyone’s struggles are struggles. You may not want them to feel bad, but in that moment, they NEED to feel bad. It’s the only thing that lets them know how good the good feelings feel. 🙂 Great post!!

    1. Divya Toshniwal says:

      I am glad I could help. I guess we have all been guilty of it at some point in time. We are human after all and growing from our past mistakes is how we progress.

  2. Victoria Prasad says:

    Interesting! I’ve never heard of this school of thought. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Divya Toshniwal says:

      You’re Welcome . Glad I could provide some value.

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