Positively Toxic: Unpacking Toxic Positivity



by Carolyn Moriarty, LCPC


In today’s culture, there’s a strong focus on staying positive. While positivity can be beneficial, placing too much importance on it can lead to what is known as toxic positivity. Toxic positivity is the belief that people should always maintain a positive mindset, regardless of how difficult or painful their situation is.

This phenomenon is based on the misconception that positivity is always beneficial. However, it fails to recognize that acknowledging and processing negative emotions is crucial for mental health. “Positivity at all costs” can harm emotional health because it encourages people to suppress their real feelings and invalidates their experiences. Recognizing the signs and effects of toxic positivity is crucial for fostering a more balanced and authentic approach to emotional wellness.

Toxic Positivity vs. Genuine Optimism

Optimism means believing in positive outcomes, even when things are difficult. This mindset helps foster resilience, problem-solving skills, and personal growth. In contrast, toxic positivity endorses ignoring or brushing off real negative feelings as unimportant.


Understanding Toxic Positivity

Toxic positivity often manifests in various ways, such as:

  • Invalidation of Negative Feelings: Statements like “just be positive” or “look on the bright side” dismiss genuine emotions such as sadness, anger, or frustration. This invalidation prevents individuals from processing and addressing their feelings constructively.
  • Pressure to Mask Emotions: There’s often pressure to appear happy and upbeat even during times of internal struggle. This pretense can lead to a disconnect between one’s true emotions and their outward expression, fostering feelings of isolation and loneliness.
  • Minimization of Problems: Problems are downplayed with phrases like “everything happens for a reason” or “it could be worse.” These words trivialize the legitimate concerns and challenges people face.


Role of Venting

Our journey throughout life will inevitably be filled with both highs and lows. While it’s natural to want to focus on the good, it’s equally important to acknowledge and talk about our negative feelings. Contrary to common belief, “venting” plays a vital role in emotional well-being for several reasons:

  • Talking about negative feelings helps us process and understand them. When we articulate our emotions, we can identify their root causes and make sense of complex situations.
  • Sharing our struggles with others often provides clarity and new perspectives.
  • Talking about our negative feelings prevents stress from building up to harmful levels.
  • Expressing our emotions, both positive and negative, helps build emotional resilience. As we become more adept at navigating our emotional landscapes, this resilience makes it easier to cope with future challenges.


Talking about negative feelings is not a sign of weakness; it’s a crucial part of maintaining our emotional health. By understanding our emotions, getting support, and reducing stress,  we can navigate our emotional journeys with greater ease and grace.




Seeking Mental Health Support

Do you need support in processing negative emotions? Consider scheduling an appointment with Chicago Counseling Center. Our therapists can provide guidance, support, and strategies tailored to your specific needs. Meet our team to learn more!

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