“Toxic positivity is a term used to describe a central focus and attention on positive emotions, while rejecting negative emotions that may arise,” Bruin explains. While a certain amount of positivity is important, she adds that, “The overuse of positivity can create environments of doubt and distrust, which can ultimately harm relationships and leave interpersonal challenges unaddressed.” Think about it: When someone immediately responds to less-than-pleasant news with platitudes like “You’ll get over it!” it can make you feel like your emotions aren’t valid, or that by not moving on immediately, there’s something wrong with you.
For example, let’s say you’re talking about a problem that doesn’t have a clear-cut solution—say, fertility struggles, a health issue, or a complicated family relationship. Do you want someone to gloss over your experience with a phrase they could’ve pulled off an inspirational poster? Or do you want someone to listen to you and acknowledge that what you’re going through is tough?
Bruin adds, “When we hide negative emotions, they ultimately find a way to show themselves. Sometimes this looks like sarcasm, passive-aggressive behavior or the lack of desire to participate, volunteer, or support others. Moreover, repressed negative emotions can lead to increased levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and the development of low self-esteem. All of which can lead to other negative consequences individually and in relationships.”