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What Is Toxic Positivity?

Positivity is vital to a successful and productive life, but sometimes we can be so focused on staying positive that we ignore everything else. Toxic positivity occurs when we are overzealous in our pursuit of positive feelings without allowing for grief, sadness, anger, or any healthy processing of emotions to happen. Positive feelings are essential to our health, but there is such a thing as too much positivity when it actually stops our progress, validation, and healing. 


Who Suffers From Toxic Positivity?

Anyone can suffer from toxic positivity. For example, essential workers such as healthcare professionals and teachers who continue to work amid the COVID-19 pandemic are told to stay positive, even in dangerous and exhausting work conditions. For some, this stops the validation of fears or any genuine feelings of safety or productivity. But validation of the trauma of working through a pandemic is vital for healing and strength. Toxic positivity skirts over the fact that society needs to address what these workers are going through and provide them with support.

Toxic positivity can be prevalent in families and households, too. Toxic positivity may be used to downplay a family trauma or neglect in dealing with a particularly bad situation. People who wish to avoid conflict often retreat to toxic positivity and may even shame those who want to process the family trauma, citing them as difficult or negative. Some may participate in a tactic known as “gaslighting,” which is trying to convince someone they are crazy for their experience or beliefs. 

Friend groups, religious groups, and other organizations can also suffer from toxic positivity when there is a desire to avoid a particular conflict. Identifying and limiting toxic positivity in your life can be crucial to healing and finding peace among your loved ones. 


Identifying Toxic Positivity

Toxic positivity can show itself in many forms, but most of the time, it is the constant invalidation of injustice, fear, or trauma. To identify toxic positivity in your life, think of how you or those around you recently handled a situation of conflict. Was the conflict addressed openly and honestly? Or was it handled by saying that things would get better in the future, to be grateful because some have it worse, to “stop being crazy,” or to just be happy for the sake of being happy? 

Again, there is no denying that positive emotions are important to a healthy life, but overdoing “positive” excuses without addressing the root of the problem is a form of toxic positivity. 

Social Science & Medicine also references “toxic well-being” as the societal pressure to always be doing well, or at least doing “well” in comparison to others. Toxic well-being and toxic positivity can cause negative mental health effects in those who feel constant pressure to be positive. 

Yet another form of toxic positivity can be found in healthcare. Many believe that positive feelings and emotions can help those with physical ailments, sometimes just as much or even more than medicine. Yet research published in the Journal of Ethics and History of Medicine confirms the potential danger of this way of thinking. While positive thinking is certainly better than negative thinking, it should not replace proper medical care. Be positive, but also be realistic. 


Eliminating Toxic Positivity 

Thankfully, there are many ways to eliminate or at least reduce any toxic positivity in your life.

  • Identification: To eliminate or reduce toxic positivity, identifying it is necessary and a good starting step. 
  • Validation: Validating when you are experiencing something that is unfair or needs to be addressed is crucial to healing. Families, workplaces, and other groups can all validate each other in their experiences and help identify the problem in question. For families or couples, this can sometimes be achieved through therapy or other means of healing communication and conflict resolution. In a workplace, this may need to be communicated through human resources or even lawyers or union representatives if the problem cannot be handled in-house. 
  • Create a plan for change: The next step in eliminating toxic positivity is to create a plan for change that all parties agree to. Identify how the conflict will be addressed from that point on and plan together how you can make it right. 
  • Implement the plan: Follow through on the plan you created for positive change, and be cognizant in the future if additional changes are needed, or any new issues arise. Each party should be able to hold each other accountable with checks and balances.


It is not a crime to be a positive person. It’s very healthy to think positively! But the benefits of being positive lose their sparkle when toxic positivity and issue avoidance come into play. Toxic positivity can be detrimental to anyone going through addiction struggles, treatment, or recovery, especially when someone is ignoring their issues or telling them their problems are not “real” problems. At RECO Intensive, we understand your need for positivity and your need for real healing and validation of your pain. We want to help you with your addiction struggles as well as your mental health struggles. We know all too well that toxic positivity has no place in RECOvery. Our professional staff and experienced alumni are here to help create a plan that is specific to you and your needs. If this includes in-house treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, sober living, therapy, and more, we have a plan ready for you. Call RECO Intensive today at (561) 464-6533. Let’s get back to a brighter future. 

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