What to do when positivity is toxic

Please do not offer me help or sympathy, I’m good, I really am good, very good in fact… now.

I recently had a setback, thankfully nothing serious but it was upsetting to me.

When someone experiences a setback, even though you may be well intentioned, the last thing they want to hear are things like:

  • you’ll get over it
  • other people have it worse
  • stay positive
  • don’t be so negative
  • things are not that bad

This is something called Toxic Positivity, it’s on the rise and needs to stop.


Because it invalidates their feelings. If something’s happened to upset us it’s perfectly acceptable to feel down.

Here are some signs to help you recognise when you’re being toxically positive to yourself when you experience a setback:

  • being unable to share your true feelings
  • being ashamed for having a negative emotion
  • constantly hiding how you genuinely feel
  • comparing the situation with someone else who ‘has it worse’
  • experiencing guilt for being sad or angry
  • ignoring your problems

The trick is, when feeling down not to remain in that state for a long time. Unless it’s something major, I’m usually fine after a good night’s sleep.  Some things take longer.

The point is our emotions can’t just be switched on and off, we need to take time to work through them. It’s healthy.

Here are some things you can do:

  • allow your emotions to run their natural course
  • talk to someone
  • go for a walk to clear your head
  • meditate
  • don’t compare yourself to others
  • switch off social media

If you’re with someone who’s had a setback and is feeling down the best way to deal with it is to show them real empathy.

You might say something like:

  • I can see you’re going through a tough time, is there anything I can do to help?
  • it’s ok to feel sad and let it out, I’m here to listen if you want me to
  • this is really tough, would you like to talk about it?
  • it’s ok to give up sometimes
  • it’s probably hard to see any good in this. How can we make sense of it?
  • describe what you’re feeling, I’m listening

Toxic positivity inhibits people from feeling perfectly normal emotions which if restrained can lead to longer lasting deeper issues like anxiety, low self-esteem and even burnout. In extreme cases it can lead to heart disease, autoimmune disorders and digestive problems.

If you had a physical pain you wouldn’t ignore it so why ignore an emotional one? If you had a physical pain you’d do something to fix it and it’s the same with our mental health.

I’m all for positivity and I really am a positive person, I’m also human. Sometimes we just need to work through setbacks and express our emotions.

Life is life and junk happens and I can guarantee there’ll be more setbacks and hardships to come.

I can also guarantee there’ll also be many more times of great joy, happiness and celebration too.

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