Positive Psychology Not Toxic Positivity

What’s on our Minds


One of the major pushbacks to positive psychology is that it’s Pollyanna—viewing the world as if everything is peaches and cream all of the time….that ignores or minimizes problems. In recent weeks, you may have heard the phrase “toxic positivity.”  It’s the idea that when we look on the bright side of things, it undercuts and dismisses real emotional pain or challenging situations. “She’s in a better place now” as a response to someone sharing a recent loss; or advising someone to “be grateful for your health” when someone has lost a job.  Some say that this can create a barrier that cuts off a real conversation. In other words, toxic positivity can promote suppressing feelings of sadness, loss or grief—it becomes a tactic to avoid dealing with reality.

Why It Matters

Building resilience requires that we build a positive outlook when facing hardship. But that doesn’t mean being positive all the time without considering the context. It’s important to learn the difference between when someone needs cheering up and inspiration versus an attentive supportive conversation.  It also means taking care of yourself and having the mental flexibility to know it’s okay to have negative emotions—because they are a normal part of being a human being.  And the key is to listen to them….and manage them.

Something to Think About


When someone shares their adversity with you, they are doing it for a reason.  They want you to take note and to offer support.  Take the time to notice the subtle difference between when you should support others with encouraging words instead of responding with “weak positivity sauce.”  Here are some examples from The Psychology Group on toxic positivity statements and how to restate them in a more engaging, productive way.

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