Let's Talk About Toxic Positivity

by Mariah published on Jan 30, 2021 9 min read

"Mariah, what's with your articles lately?"

What's wrong with my articles?

"It's like everything you write lately has this negative spin on it."

Oh, you mean how I am approaching uncomfortable topics, breaking them down, and then explaining how people's emotions are still valid?

"Well yeah, but-"

No buts! My articles aren't inherently negative and the topics I discuss are often things that create toxicity within the Anthro community. These are things we should all be aware of, try to avoid, and even learn from. It's not easy tackling these topics, but spreading knowledge is what I'm all about~

And this article is no different! :3

Hi, I'm Mariah, and today we are going to talk about being positive! As a matter of fact, we're gonna talk about positivity to the point of it actually becoming toxic. I know that some of you will already be familiar with the phrase "toxic positivity" but for others the term might be completely unheard of. Toxic positivity is not a new concept, but it's something that has been dramatically magnified by the current state of the world. The pandemic has affected all of us, and one of it's by-products has been an abundance of toxicity.

So, what exactly is toxic positivity? Let's break it down and take a better look.

From thepsychologygroup.com:

We define toxic positivity as the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations. The process of toxic positivity results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.

And from Healthline.com:

“Toxic positivity is the assumption, either by one’s self or others, that despite a person’s emotional pain or difficult situation, they should only have a positive mindset or — my pet peeve term — ‘positive vibes,’” explains Dr. Jaime Zuckerman, a clinical psychologist in Pennsylvania who specializes in, among other things, anxiety disorders and self-esteem.

To put it simply, toxic positivity is the belief that no matter what happens, where you are in life, or what circumstances have arisen, you absolutely have to think positive and be "okay." Honestly though, we have all been guilty of this at one point, either to ourselves or those around us. This is especially true in today's world of pandemics and isolation. If you're still curious about what toxic positivity is, here are a few examples:

  • A family member who constantly says "don't worry about it" when you're trying to express any other emotion beyond happiness.
  • Memes that include lines like, "just change your outlook" or "don't be mad, be happy!"
  • Friends who encourage you to "put on a happy face" while you vent your struggles.
  • Anyone who tells you "it could be worse."

Some of the most common signs of toxic positivity include (from thephychologygroup.com):

  1. Hiding/Masking your true feelings
  2. Trying to “just get on with it” by stuffing/dismissing an emotion(s)
  3. Feeling guilty for feeling what you feel
  4. Minimizing other people’s experiences with “feel good” quotes or statements
  5. Trying to give someone perspective (e.g., “it could be worse”) instead of validating their emotional experience
  6. Shaming or chastising others for expressing frustration or anything other than positivity
  7. Brushing off things that are bothering you with an “It is what it is”

At this point, I'm sure some of you just read through those lists and went: "Crap, I do some of those things all the time! I didn't realize I was being so toxic." Firstly, just breathe, and know that it's exactly what I said to myself after I finished doing this research. That's right, I am 100% guilty of being so positive that it's actually harmful. To those of you who know me and have experienced this from me, I just wanna say that I'm sorry, and I am doing my best to be better.

For those of you who are with me in this realization, I want you to know that being positive doesn't usually come with ill intent. We are all learning so much about ourselves and our emotions during this pandemic; and each step you take to better yourself, even if it means throttling back on the "positive vibes", is a good one. I'm not saying that we adopt a negative outlook on everything in life, because that's not healthy either, but once again I'm here to share balance and understanding.

When you push yourself to be positive in every situation, you are actually selling yourself short on the experience we call life. It's okay to not be okay, and to feel like things are not all that great. Every emotion you have is valid. The positive, and the negative, are all part of your story. None of us should feel like we need to become emotionless machines just to make it through the day. Don't ignore your emotions, but take a second to pause and ask yourself why you feel the way you do. Even if you're like me and the answer is: "I dunno, I just feel this way," then you are at least acknowledging your emotions for what they are.

All of us in the Anthro community, no matter the species, are subject to our emotions. We can't just pick and choose the way we feel and that's part of what makes living such an experience. When I sit and think about the concept of choosing your emotions, it actually makes me laugh a little because I know not everyone would say: "If I could choose my emotions, I would wake up happy every single day and go to bed with a smile." Some of us don't work that way.

And you know what? That's okay! People thrive on all sorts of different emotions. For some, they are the most productive when they are angry or frustrated. Other's may use a fear of failure as a motivator. Who knows! My point is that no matter what emotions you are dealing with, they are valid.

Life is going to be hard sometimes and you will undoubtedly be faced with a whirlwind of emotions. Being positive is not a bad thing, but like everything else in life, practice moderation; especially with your friends and loved ones. If someone is down, then they are likely dealing with something and, from the outside, you have no idea how overwhelming it may be. The best thing you can do is show your support and not brush their emotions off by saying: "Don't think about that, just stay positive and everything will work out!" How you approach each emotional trial is up to you, but here is a free-to-share chart on ways to be truly positive, without the added toxicity.

I know that a lot of this might be a little too "let's hold hands and sing together" for some, and I totally get it. I also know that some people will read this article and think, "those snowflakes just need to pull themselves up and figure their life out." But please, understand that even if your life is going great, there are literally millions of people out there who are suffering. I'm glad you were able to keep your job, not lose any money, and are perfectly capable of thriving without anyone else. Your story isn't mine, or anyone else's, and that's something we should do our best to remember.

Don't get me wrong, I believe in the strength of the individual to pull oneself through any hardship. I also believe that we, as a community, really do care about each other; despite the politics, beliefs, and various other conflicts that plague our little slice of the internet.

In short, please be supportive of those around you; especially to the other members of our community.

Life is hard enough as it is.


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