Why We Need to Stop with the Toxic Positivity

Can too many positive vibes have a negative impact on our mental health?

Positive vibes only has become a cliche way of thinking for many people.

When asked for my take on toxic positivity, I pretty much told myself I needed to cut the bullshit and get real because I knew I’d have to take a look in the mirror. Was I guilty of living a “toxic positive” lifestyle? “No way,” I told myself.

But in the weeks leading up to jotting down a single thought about toxic positivity, my “happy and not-so-bad” world began to unravel. My life suddenly began to feel like a dropped ball of yarn that continuously unraveled as I juggled settling into my career change, motherhood, being a partner and small business owner. I was also preparing to become my mother’s legal guardian. I often questioned if I was having a slow-motion breakdown.

I woke up grateful, prayerful, sometimes fussy when the kids bickered in the bathroom instead of brushing their teeth as I asked, but I was happy and content with life as I knew it.

Or was I?

Was I telling myself this because I wanted to believe so? Or was I hiding the truths of my mental state behind what I thought were positive thoughts? I spoke daily mantras to myself and my children on the way to school. I counted my blessings in my blessing jar and always told myself to look at the brighter side of things.

I mean, life could always be worse right?

On a recent Sunday, I watched my mother have a manic episode as I had never seen before. While trying to be the calm in the storm, all of my hope and positive thoughts about finally being able to help her navigate her mental illness had gone out the window.

And reality sank in. Instead of thinking this was our breakthrough, I allowed myself to feel all of the feelings I had buried in those “positive thoughts” (or were they lies?).

I was tired, confused and felt extremely defeated. But if you looked at my social media posts and photos, you wouldn’t know it.

I didn’t need to use the internet to learn more about toxic positivity and its meaning when I was living it.

You might be asking yourself, “so exactly what is toxic positivity?” Toxic positivity is the belief that no matter how difficult a situation is, you should maintain a positive mindset by looking at the brighter side of things. You know, “good vibes only.” It is the rejection of difficult emotions in favor of a more optimistic, often falsely positive, facade.

I was putting on a facade for my children, my partner, those who follow me on social media, and more importantly, MYSELF. But I wasn’t the only one.

Those around me knew the up and downs of my journey with my mother and were constantly feeding me, “it’ll be OK,” “you’re strong enough to handle it,” and “it’s OK, at least your mother is alive” lines.

Why did I have to pretend to be OK when I wasn’t? Why were my friends responding with toxic positivity instead of hope and validation when I attempted to confide in them? I knew they were trying to make me feel better, but the desired effect was non-existent.

The bottom line is the avoidance of suffering is suffering, denial of failure is a failure, and disallowing the existence of certain feelings causes us to fall into a state of denial and repressed feelings, which is not healthy for you or your relationships.

The truth is, humans are flawed, and by pretending we’re a ray of sunshine with rainbows to follow along with “positive vibes only,” we deny the validity of a genuine human experience. Are you guilty of toxic positivity? Masking your true feelings or giving your friends your perspective instead of validating their emotional experiences is a sign of toxic positivity. So is brushing off things that are bothering you with an “it is what it is.”

If you keep ghosting your own emotions, they’ll keep surfacing until you finally deal with them. Trust me.

It’s OK not to be OK.

Mori K. Anderson is a metro Detroit mom of two and program director of a Detroit nonprofit, Center for Success. 

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