Toxic Positivity

Positivity. We all need it right? It helps us to solve any problems and overcome our struggles. But what if positivity is actually a problem? If you are struggling with your mental health whether it’s a low feeling, serious stress, anxiety, or being overwhelmed, the pressure of someone telling you to “just snap out of it” or “just be happy” can lead you to feel worse. With the themes of happiness, self-care, and self-love common across social media and images of everyone “living the ideal life” the positivity can backfire and essentially become “toxic positivity”. In the face of someone struggling it’s easy to use these phrases. But what if they just make the person feel worse?


We often use positive phrases when confronted with someone who is having difficulty. Essentially when we tell someone to “just relax” or “cheer up it could be worse” we are not allowing them to express their emotions in an open and healthy way. We are in fact suppressing them. Instead of being able to express emotions and gain support, people’s feelings are dismissed and invalidated which can lead them to feeling worse.  We can be too quick to dismiss any emotions that aren’t happy or positive. People don’t need a “positive” response, more often than not they just want someone to talk to and listen to.


So why do we use these phrases as a default? In our culture, we are taught that being positive is a good thing. We are often told to forget our bad feelings as things will just get better if we just power through our problems and that a positive, determined attitude will get us there. This can be really damaging. People need to cope with their emotions in order to heal and by truly listening to them and helping them voice what are sometimes negative emotions we can really help them.


Here are some validating and supportive phrases you can use when listening to someone struggling.


  • This is hard. We’ll get through it together. 
  • Do you want to talk about it?
  • It’s normal to have negative thoughts in this situation.
  • It’s probably pretty hard to be positive right now.
  • Let me know if there is anything I can do to support you.
  • This isn’t easy and you don’t have to pretend like it is.