Being upbeat and looking for the best in things is not a bad thing. A positive attitude has the power to lift those around you. Also, it can be good for personal health and well-being. But some researchers agree that a positive perspective should not take the place of feeling difficult feelings, thoughtful listening, and empathy.

Toxic positivity is a concept that rejects negative emotions and focuses solely on the power of staying positive as the right way to live. However, sometimes people just need you to agree that a circumstance stinks, rather than say, “This too shall pass.” When you fail to look at a situation from another person’s perspective, you are more likely to dismiss or minimize someone’s difficult or frustrating experience. When you get a “it could be worse” instead of commiseration or validation, that can be considered toxic positivity.  It can leave the dismissed person feeling worse. They might feel like they are a bad person for having and sharing their feelings in the first place. It can even make the unpleasant emotions worsen because they remain unprocessed.

Instead of trying to find a positive spin or fix the situation, it can be more helpful to use language that validates the situation. Use phrases that show you are listening and trying to understand from their perspective. Phrases like, “This is really hard,” “I’m here for you,” “Tell me more,” or “That makes sense.” Sometimes we even turn toxic positivity onto ourselves. We do this when we feel pressure to ignore difficult emotions, which places us at risk for physical and psychological harm. Remember, pushing away feelings does not make them go away. Listening to your emotions, and those of others, can serve as alarms. They tell you to check in with yourself and/or to make yourself available to someone who needs you.


Smith, J. (2020). When does a good attitude become toxic positivity? CNN Health. Retrieved  

Source: Amy F. Kostelic, Associate Extension Professor for Adult Development and Aging

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