Positivity is an important personality trait and can have a powerful impact on our well-being and the way we interact with others. In the previous blog article, we delved deeply into the power of our thoughts and saw how psychology approaches this topic. There are many studies showing that positive thoughts and emotions are directly related to better physical and emotional well-being. This phenomenon has been called the Rosenthal effect, the Pygmalion effect, or even "self-fulfilling prophecies".
But when positivity gets excessive and begins to mask real issues or minimize negative feelings, it can become harmful and is referred to as "toxic positivity."
By forcing positive thoughts, we deny our true feelings or experiences. Toxic positivity is an overgeneralization of optimism and happiness in certain situations and denies impending problems or inhibits uncomfortable emotions (Quintero & Long, 2019). More specifically, even when we are going through difficult situations, we need to completely suppress negative emotions and force a positive attitude or thinking because negative emotions are seen as unacceptable or bad. When there is overdoing and forcing in such situations, the effects can be contrary to expectations.
Positive thinking is a wonderful tool when used properly. People always use different means and strategies, to stay positive: affirmations, visualizations, forms of support. However, some studies (Wood et al., 2009) have found that certain positive affirmations are likely to backfire in people, particularly those with low self-esteem. Therefore, we must be careful and learn to use these psychological tools carefully. When we feel overwhelmed and can't get out of a complicated situation on our own, the best thing to do is ask for help and accept our negative emotions. If we don't know when and how to use these tools, we can turn to psychologists, psychotherapists, life coaches or health professionals for guidance.
Wibowo (2020) has shown through his research that positivity, when used correctly and in the right situations, helps us to grow and seize opportunities. But that it can backfire powerfully on us when we go through really difficult times. By forcing positive vibes, denying and invalidating our feelings that we are really experiencing. Negative feelings are important and help us learn and understand certain experiences throughout life. Left unprocessed or suppressed, they can lead to stress-related illnesses.
Another danger of forced positivity is that it can lead to a lack of action in circumstances that require immediate or severe action. Sinclair, Hart, & Lomas (2020) found that optimism can be counterproductive when people experience domestic violence. It can put victims at risk and deter them from leaving abusive relationships.
Social expectation also leads to negative self-perceptions. People begin to sense that something is wrong with them when they are sad. It further amplifies their negative emotions and mental experiences. (Bastian, Brock & Kuppens, Peter & Hornsey, Matthew & Park, Joonha & Koval, Peter & Uchida, Yukiko, 2011).
Toxic positivity can also lead to emotional overload or burnout because it forces us to stay cheerful even when we're feeling down. It can also negatively affect our relationships as we can avoid opening up and being authentic to others.
In order to avoid toxic positivity, it is important that we allow ourselves to acknowledge and use negative feelings. Instead of downplaying or ignoring them, we need to take responsibility for them and treat them with compassion and understanding. We must also give ourselves and others permission to be authentic and express ourselves freely, regardless of emotional state.
Staying happy and positive is important and normal. It's a form of human constant quest, and it's been shown to empower us to grow and seize opportunities. But life is neither easy nor fair and can sometimes present us with great challenges. It's important to allow ourselves to recognize situations, capitalize on all feelings, while learning how to use tools properly without engaging in toxic positivity.