Toxic Positivity - Suppressing Basic Negative Emotions and Also a New Thriving Industry

Harshit Verma Harshit Verma
Dec 29, 2021 13 min read
Toxic Positivity - Suppressing Basic Negative Emotions and Also a New Thriving Industry

“Be Positive”, “everything happens for a reason”, “It will be alright, be positive, take a chill pill”. We all have heard this, we all have been there, heard that. People say these lines all the time.

Do you ever get bored of these repetitive lines, phrases, Hopeless motivations and everything like these, then my friend you are absolutely feeling right. Not in a sense that someone has to tell you how you should feel but if you can be sure about how you are feeling then Kudos mate, you’re good to go ahead. So yeah, back to the question, how much positivity is too much positivity?

Well, this makes a good question. If you think that positivity can not be bad then you are probably wrong. If you start in this direction of thinking, then you will encounter and find something called “Toxic positivity”. This term has become very famous in the past years.

Due to the fact that social media is the new world that we live in, positivity has risen to its very excess. Excess positivity is toxic positivity. This is an article that talks about toxic positivity, how it has been affecting us and how it has been monetised by people of the business world. We will discuss how being positive has become a huge industry. Read on to the article to debunk myths about positivity and everything in relation to motivation.

What do you mean by Toxic Positivity?
How does Positivity in Excess become Toxic?
A Whole Industry that Operates and Thrives on Positivity (and Motivation)
Knowing the Limits of Positivity and Motivational Dopamine

What do you mean by Toxic Positivity?

From “think positive” to “no bad days,” the internet is full of uplifting quotes and phrases that are meant to inspire positivity in a helpful way.  

Stay Positive
Stay Positive

Toxic positivity is a term used to denote the super positive persona that people try to wear on themselves, to appear cool and good. It is “So much positivity” that it is toxic. It has everything to do with your mental space, it hurts your mental space so well and devastates it to the very core. There can be many reasons why it can be a thief of your mental peace.

First and foremost of all the reasons, it is unrealistic. Excess positivity does not enable you to watch the full picture and thus, you get a lopsided view of the society and situations around you. The rise of influencers has also boosted this trend. They don’t mean it but the idea is communicated indirectly to their followers of them.

“Toxic positivity is the assumption, either by one’s self or others, that despite a person’s emotional pain or difficult situation, they should only have a positive mindset or — my pet peeve term — ‘positive vibes,’” explains Dr. Jaime Zuckerman, a clinical psychologist in Pennsylvania who specialises in, among other things, anxiety disorders and self-esteem.

Quite literally anything can become and take shape of toxic positivity. It can be your cute cousin, who speaks highly of you and motivates you to look on the brighter side. It can be your friend that repeatedly posts about the productive geek that they have become during the pandemic. It can be a meme that tells you to focus on the brighter side, be positive and change your outlet etcetera. Or it can be you and your own feelings that you should not pay attention to sadness, loneliness and anxiety.

A person that is suffering from toxic positivity feels that all his/her emotions are not worth feeling. In fact, every negative emotion is seen as inherently bad. Instead of validating these necessary negative feelings, the person is forced to have a good outlook and happiness is compulsively pushed. This affects the authentic human emotional experiences, they become minimised and even denied. This leads to constipation (Not of the digestive sort but) of the emotional sort.

“The pressure to appear ‘OK’ invalidates the range of emotions we all experience,” says Carolyn Karoll, a psychotherapist in Baltimore, Maryland. “It can give the impression that you are defective when you feel distress, which can be internalised in a core belief that you are inadequate or weak.”
Karoll continues: “Judging yourself for feeling pain, sadness, jealousy — which are part of the human experience and are transient emotions — leads to what are referred to as secondary emotions, such as shame, that are much more intense and maladaptive. “They distract us from the problem at hand, and [they] don’t give space for self-compassion, which is so vital to our mental health.”

A psychotherapist also suggested that “toxic positivity, at its core, is an avoidance strategy used to push away and invalidate any internal discomfort.” But when you avoid your emotions, you actually cause more harm.

The world has seen enormous shifts in the technology sector. We have invented social media from which we can stay connected to a person even when he/she is far away from us. This factor of social media is really helpful and useful but it also has its own shortcomings. If anything good can be surfaced online within a few seconds, anything bad can be surfaced too within a short span of time.

In this article, we will talk about the phenomenon of excess positivity, otherwise known and addressed as toxic positivity. Let us see first what makes the term “Excess positivity” or “Toxic positivity” really toxic. We will also have to look at its downfalls and its disadvantages for that matter. The next paragraph talks about the same.

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How does Positivity in Excess become Toxic?

There can be many reasons that we may ignore but they can turn anything positive, more toxic. If you want to avoid any sort of toxicity from your life, then it is important that you know about the disadvantages of that. Just like we discuss the disease and read about its symptoms. Toxic positivity is also some sort of mental disease, which has the following downfalls -

It is Super Unrealistic

If a person always looks on the positive side of every situation, then he/she chooses to avoid reality because reality is of all sorts. The term “Positivity” refers to a situation when a person thinks and sees only the positives, which in turn hides the true nature of real life.

Most of the time, the reality is amusing and has negatives and some downsides too, if you choose to always look at the positives then you won’t see the big picture clearly. A toxic positive person will always get a lopsided view of the world. It is often used as a quick fix mantra that will whitewash the reality, giving you only the reality that is sugar-coated. Thus, toxic positivity hides from you the true nature of reality and if you cannot face reality in its true colours then you will miss out on a lot of new emotions and actions.

Positivity was Rare and Now it is Toxic

As we mentioned in a brief earlier that with advancements in our technology and social media, we have led to a point in time when information travels faster than light. Just open any social media, be it Instagram, or Twitter or any other, you will notice at least ten posts of self-belief and positivity and motivation on your timeline as well.

If we talk about the past, we can notice that the rates at which information(and positivity and motivation) travelled were about a zillion times less than that it is today.

Positivity was a rare phenomenon in the past but it has now risen above and has been taken in excess amounts. Taking in excess amounts of positivity can lead to unrealism, where a person refuses to believe how bad a situation is. It is not always about hope, it is mostly about positive action.

Denied Basic Human Emotions

What we see increasingly in this new tech world is the fact that our fellows are denying basic human emotions. We are too much online that now we just tend to follow whatever we see online.

If everyone is positive online, we will also try to be mostly positive irrespective of our situations in real life. This is the only difference between real and reel life. The online personal management system of people is now forcing people to be more positive and dismiss negative emotions as nothing at all.

Counterintuitively, one more thing that we are witnessing these days is the value of online posting has decreased a bit and now people are trying to be their real selves on social media floors. Social media has become more and more casual for now.

Expecting the Best, Feeling worse

Some studies have concluded that when human beings make their happiness of high value and expensive to attain, it leads to less and less happiness and in some cases even degraded happiness or sadness. This phenomenon happens best when people try to expect happiness from someone or some event or something.

This tendency to expect happiness and then feel degraded in that sphere and then to blame yourself for feeling bad is a depressing spiral. It can lead down and more down to one’s own depression. These symptoms if not thought earlier would lead to more and more personal conflicts and personal deficits.

Valuing Happiness and Prioritising Positivity

Another difference between more and more toxic positivity and happiness is that the former is not often valued and the latter is always prioritised. You have to learn the difference between wanting happiness and prioritising positivity. What you really want is happiness and that is something that you should prioritise. Positivity on the other hand comes when you face real life as it is, without a single bias and cognitive prejudice.

A Whole Industry that Operates and Thrives on Positivity (and Motivation)

Then comes the capitalists. Capitalists can make money out of anything and everything. As we see the recent rise in positivity rates, we can also see brands marketing changing and adapting to the societal change that we are witnessing.

Kunal Shah recently tweeted that the highest-selling book in any year is about to the maximum units of 1.5 lakhs and the most popular books that are also the highest-selling books are in the genre of “Motivation”. It is something that we all have seen, you go to Amazon or Flipkart or any other E-commerce website. The most popular book will be motivational in nature.

He further added that buying motivational books is like buying sports shoes, both of them feel good. The joy of buying each of them is as if you have solved all your problems. Most people don’t really use them at all except for the purpose of status-seeking.

So, What is the one characteristic that motivating things have that make them bestsellers?

It is the fact that they make you feel good. All the motivational content on YouTube, every book that has anything motivational written on them, every Nike’s sport shoe that reminds you of some pro-level athlete, all of these things are made to give you some dopamine hit that eventually makes you feel good.

Once you see that YouTube video, buy that bestselling book or that sports shoes, you are again back to zero, with nothing substantial in your hands. Motivation has got a lot to do with business than it has got to do with achieving goals or smashing workouts.

Most businesses have shifted to Storytelling as a method of marketing. The reason behind such a big move is the fact that humans are social and emotional beings, we react to a story or some emotional appeal the best. Thus, most brands you will see can be seen advertising with a theme of a story, or motivation, or of creating or of pushing the limits, or anything positively emotional and contagious.

You can see Nike glorifying athletes and making people want to play some sport and work hard and become better at it.

We can see Apple trend the hashtag “Behind the Mac'', which says people are building great things behind the Macintosh, that advertisement is synonymous for professionals that work on creating something from scratch.

All these things are not bad but extremely fascinating to see and witness. These big brands aren’t just trying to market their products but they make the consumers a part of the storytelling and motivation campaign and thus increase customer loyalty.

We don’t see that trend in brands only but we can see it within people too. Some humans try to spread positivity so much that it just seems unreal. We can assume that they are doing it for the likes and engagement that they get after they say something positive in the public or in social media.

If you search for a hashtag of ‘positive’ or ‘positivity’ you will find thousands or even millions of posts. When some social media pages try to wear the positive hat, it is for the fact that it reaches maximum engagement and there are only a few times when they really want people to be happy and positive. Most of the time, it is about vanity metrics.

Positivity Hashtag Instagram
Positivity Hashtag Instagram

Knowing the Limits of Positivity and Motivational Dopamine

I named the paragraph positivity and motivational dopamine due to the fact that it is just hormonal imbalances in your body, nothing more. A positive outlook towards life and well being will help but you need to know the limits of your involvement. You should know when this self helps cliched sort of topic are turning into mere entertainment for you.

Omnipresence around you

If you see positivity and motivation stickers or posts or products always around you. It can be on your social media timeline, and elsewhere. If you are totally covered in these ‘safe looking’ drugs then it's time to cut short the relationship.

Always being exposed to these can affect your mental peace and happiness. It's important to take regular breaks and know your boundaries.

Reports proved that suppressing feelings can cause more internal, psychological stress. Thus, avoidance or suppression of emotional discomfort leads to increased anxiety, depression, and overall worsening of mental health.

Know the Boundaries

Well, we all know when we are wasting time on our smartphone, on a product that we don’t want. We should be very much aware of the boundaries of positivity. Anything that is pro positivity we should be sceptical about it.

You should know when you are hiding behind excuses of not facing the reality as it is. The reason is that when you use these self-help and quick fix mantras without knowing the actual substance behind them, that is when they fall short of benefits. That is when these quick fixes turn into more of a long term disaster.

Initially, it might seem to make your life better and fill you with newfound confidence and new optimism but that newfound hope is limited to some shorter extent. Thus, know your boundaries of inactiveness and your boundaries of excuses for not facing reality.

Practice Mindfulness

Living in the moment and feeling and owning whatever you are at this moment is a great way to kick start thinking in this direction. You can practice mindfulness which will help you get over these quick fixes like 'positive thinking.

It won't happen quickly, rather it is a very painful slow process. But you have to endure the pain of learning to manage your emotions well. That is essentially the first step you take in conquering the world.

If you notice any negativity of any sort, don’t judge yourself on that basis only, you are much more than that. Instead of quick judgement, you can make a mental note of it and then simply move on. It’s important to be mindful of them and validate your negative feelings and acknowledge the information they are giving us without losing ourselves in them.

Be Realistic

It is very weird that people have to be forced to learn this simple thing. But it is usual in an unusual sort of time that we live in. The hack here is to be realistic, to make reality the topmost priority. It means to face the reality as it is and not as one would want it to be. It is important to be courageous and not be scared of facing anything new. That is the motto for braves: Be realistic!

Avoid Ignoring or Stuffing your Emotions

This point is the consequence and crux of all the discussions above. It is very important to validate your emotions. Those emotions can be of any sort, positive or negative, any shape or size, know that you are actually feeling those.

If you try to deny these emotions, one thing is sure that these natural hormonal feelings will not vanish, they will come up in uglier ways. In fact, hiding or denying your negative emotions and wearing a fake happy broad face will constipate you (Not digestively but emotionally). Thus positivity is good but validating every feeling that you feel inside is the BEST. Simply, Go for it. Own what you are really feeling.

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In this newfound world of social media and hi-technology, it seems that everything is fine and happy (At least on social media). But in the real world, it is more twisted and full of turns. The world is not all sort of fairytale and positivity is quite rare in nature.

When we hop on the trend of seeing positivity everywhere, we are essentially trying to forcefully shape reality to fit our own lens. It might feel good for the short term as it really fills you with a newly found confidence and more energy to do more but essentially it is short term and it has its end sometime soon.

On the same track of positivity, lies another friend of positivity, and that is the motivational genre. Both these things are used as a “quick fix” mantra that really whitewashes the reality that surrounds us.

This newfound or new-formed ‘Sugar coated’ reality might become your reality but it is not the universal reality and you are essentially seeing your version of smooth life. It might feel good for a while but the pain it brings later can really be hard to grasp for yourself. Thus, it is better to be aware of the real reality and also it is better to be aware of your dependence on any sort of these modern self-help quick fixes.

In the end, we just want to remind you of the fact that we should be mindful and aware of which trend you hop on. If you still want to go with positivity hype, know the boundaries. It’s OK not to be OK right now — in fact, it’s normal.


Why positivity culture is toxic?

Positivity culture is toxic because it results in denial of authentic human emotional experience.

Is there such a thing as toxic positivity?

Yes, toxic positivity is a term used to denote the super positive persona that people try to wear on themselves, to appear cool and good.

How do you know if you have toxic positivity?

If you are hiding from uncomfortable feelings or are only focusing on the positive aspects of a painful situation you might have toxic positivity.

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