Positive Psychology vs. Toxic Positivity

Claudia De la torre, LPC

Feb 8, 2021

“How can positivity be toxic?” “Being positive is the key to everything!”

If I had a dollar for every time, I heard those statements, I would be living on a private island enjoying the waves. All jokes aside, positivity can be extremely toxic!

smiling in mirror

When positivity is used to silence the human experience of negative emotions, it becomes harmful. By disallowing feelings of hurt, sadness, or frustration we fall into a state of denial and repressed emotions. We as humans are flawed and need to experience jealousy, anger, resentment, and even greed. Life sucks and anyone who tells you otherwise is flat out denying the validity of the human experience. There are several expressions of toxic positivity that can help you recognize when it shows up in everyday life: 
1. Shaming others for thinking or feeling anything other than positivity  
2. “It is what it is” when something bothers you 
3. “It could be worse” mentality 
4. “Feel good” quotes meant to minimize other’s feelings and emotions 
However, just like everything in this world, positivity has two sides. Yes, it can be toxic when used in excess, but it can also be extremely helpful when used correctly. The desire to feel happiness and positivity is also a universal human experience. Although negative situations are bound to happen in our lives, we can use positive reframing to see the negative situation through a more positive lens. Though this technique might not always work, it is important to practice and learn to accept the bad with the good. For example, instead of thinking you can’t do anything right if your boss gives you critical feedback, you can reframe it by telling yourself that you need to learn from the feedback and do better next time. All of our emotions serve a purpose in our lives including the emotions deemed “negative”. Experiencing anxiety and negativity can help us stay wary of dangerous situations and acknowledge when we are being mistreated.  
We tend to get stuck in those treacherous seas when something negative happens in our lives. Instead of riding the waves of grief by telling yourself “it could be worse” or googling motivational videos, you can learn to ride the surfboard of positive psychology!    
Long, J. (2020, October 8). Toxic positivity: The dark side of positive vibes. The Psychology Group Fort Lauderdale. https://thepsychologygroup.com/toxic-positivity/ 
PsyD, D. G., & PsyD, G. J. (2020). Positive psychology in practice: Simple tools to pursue happiness and live authentically. Rockridge Press. 

Written by:

Claudia De la torre, LPC

Feb 8, 2021


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