Toxic Positivity: When Good Intentions Go Wrong

In recent years, positivity has become a buzzword in the workplace. Employers encourage their employees to have a positive attitude, stay optimistic, and maintain a can-do attitude. However, in some cases, this emphasis on positivity can become toxic.

Toxic positivity is a phenomenon in which individuals and organizations insist on positive thinking at all times, even in the face of adversity. This can lead to a culture that suppresses negative emotions and discourages open and honest communication.

In this article, we will define toxic positivity, examine its effects, explore its presence in the workplace, and provide examples of toxic positivity.

What is Toxic Positivity Definition and Why is it Harmful?

Toxic positivity is the idea that one should only focus on positive emotions and reject or suppress negative ones. It can manifest in various ways, such as telling someone to “just be positive” or “look on the bright side” instead of allowing them to fully process their negative emotions.

While positivity can be beneficial, toxic positivity can be harmful because it ignores the complexity of human emotions and can lead to invalidation, shame, and guilt.

Toxic Positivity Meaning

Toxic positivity is a term used to describe the harmful idea that one should only focus on positive emotions and reject or suppress negative ones. This mindset can lead individuals to invalidate or ignore their own negative emotions, as well as those of others, which can result in a sense of disconnection and isolation.

This can manifest in a variety of ways, such as offering unhelpful platitudes like “just think positively” or “everything happens for a reason,” or invalidating someone’s negative emotions by telling them to simply “cheer up.” While positivity can be beneficial, it is important to acknowledge and validate negative emotions as a normal and important part of the human experience.

The Negative Effects of Toxic Positivity

While positivity can have numerous benefits for our mental and physical health, toxic positivity can have the opposite effect. Here are some of the negative effects of toxic positivity:

1. Invalidating Feelings

When we promote positivity excessively, we can unintentionally invalidate other people’s feelings. If someone is going through a tough time, telling them to “just stay positive” or “look on the bright side” can feel dismissive and unhelpful. Instead of addressing the root cause of the problem, we’re telling them to ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist.

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2. Suppressing Negative Emotions

Toxic positivity can also encourage people to suppress their negative emotions, which can lead to further mental health issues. It’s important to acknowledge and express our emotions, even the negative ones, as this can be a healthy way of dealing with them.

3. Creating a Culture of Shame

When people feel like they can’t express their true feelings because they’ll be judged for not being positive enough, it creates a culture of shame. This can lead to people feeling like they’re not good enough or that they’re failing because they can’t maintain a positive outlook.

Toxic Positivity Examples

Toxic positivity can be found in many aspects of our culture, from self-help books to social media. Here are some examples of toxic positivity:

1. “Good Vibes Only” Culture

The “good vibes only” culture is a prime example of toxic positivity. This phrase suggests that negative emotions or experiences are not allowed and that people should always be happy and positive.

2. Belittling Others’ Struggles

When we tell someone that their struggles are insignificant compared to others or that they should be grateful for what they have, it can be a form of toxic positivity. While it’s important to be grateful, it’s also important to acknowledge and validate our struggles.

3. Positive Thinking as a Cure-All

Positive thinking can be a helpful tool, but it’s not a cure-all. Toxic positivity suggests that positive thinking is the only way to solve problems or deal with negative emotions, which is not always the case.

Toxic Positivity in the Workplace

Toxic positivity in workplace can have a number of negative effects on employees. For example, if someone is dealing with a difficult situation at work, such as a heavy workload or a challenging project, being told to just stay positive can be dismissive and unhelpful. It can also create a sense of pressure to always be performing at their best, which can lead to burnout and stress.

Another way that toxic positivity can manifest in the workplace is through the use of motivational quotes and posters. While these may seem harmless, they can create a culture where employees feel pressured to always be positive and enthusiastic, even if they are struggling with their workload or other challenges.

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Additionally, this can create a culture of silence, where employees feel that they cannot express their concerns or speak out against problematic behavior. This can lead to a lack of accountability and an environment where issues are ignored or swept under the rug.

How to Address Toxic Positivity in the Workplace

Toxic positivity can be challenging to address, as it can be deeply ingrained in workplace culture. However, it is essential to create an environment where employees feel comfortable expressing their true emotions and addressing issues that need to be resolved. Some ways to address toxic positivity in the workplace include:

  • Encouraging open and honest communication
  • Normalizing negative emotions and discussing how to address them
  • Recognizing and addressing workplace issues instead of sweeping them under the rug
  • Acknowledging the importance of self-care and encouraging employees to take breaks and prioritize their mental health

How to Avoid Toxic Positivity

If you want to create a healthy workplace environment, it is important to recognize the signs of toxic positivity and take steps to avoid it. Here are a few strategies you can use:

  1. Encourage open communication: Create an environment where employees feel comfortable expressing their concerns and opinions, even if they are negative.
  2. Recognize the value of constructive criticism: Criticism can be a valuable tool for growth and improvement, so don’t dismiss it out of hand.
  3. Be aware of your own biases: If you tend to be overly positive or dismissive of negative emotions, make an effort to recognize this and adjust your behavior accordingly.
  4. Validate negative emotions: When someone expresses negative emotions, don’t dismiss them or try to convince them to be positive. Instead, validate their feelings and offer support.
  5. Promote work-life balance: Encourage employees to take breaks and prioritize their mental health, rather than always pushing themselves to be positive and productive.


Toxic positivity is a harmful mindset that can have negative effects on mental health. It involves the idea that one should only focus on positive emotions and reject or suppress negative ones. While positivity can be beneficial, it is important to acknowledge and validate negative emotions.

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By recognizing and overcoming it, individuals can foster greater emotional resilience and connection in relationships. Moreover, by promoting healthy positivity in oneself and others, individuals can cultivate a more balanced and authentic approach to emotions.


  1. What is the difference between toxic positivity and healthy positivity?

Toxic positivity is the idea that one should only focus on positive emotions and reject or suppress negative ones, while healthy positivity involves acknowledging both positive and negative emotions and allowing oneself to experience them fully. Balanced positivity involves finding a healthy balance between the two.

  1. How can I overcome toxic positivity?

The first step in overcoming toxic positivity is recognizing it. It is important to acknowledge that negative emotions are a normal part of the human experience and that suppressing them can be harmful. Additionally, being aware of the language used in conversations and relationships can help to identify instances of toxic positivity. Once recognized, it is important to validate negative emotions and provide support and empathy.

  1. Can toxic positivity lead to mental health problems?

Yes, toxic positivity can have several negative effects on mental health. When someone is told to suppress their negative emotions, they may feel invalidated or as though their emotions are not valid. This can lead to a sense of isolation and disconnection, which can further worsen mental health. Moreover, suppressing emotions can lead to physical symptoms such as headaches, digestive issues, and fatigue. In extreme cases, toxic positivity can lead to anxiety disorders, depression, and even suicide.

  1. How can I foster healthy positivity in myself and others?

Fostering healthy positivity involves embracing the complexity of emotions and encouraging others to do the same. This can involve practicing self-compassion and self-care, expressing gratitude and appreciation, and seeking out positive experiences. Additionally, promoting healthy positivity in others can involve validating their emotions, offering support and encouragement, and practicing active listening.

  1. Is it okay to not be okay?

Yes, it is okay to not be okay. Negative emotions are a normal part of the human experience, and it is important to allow oneself and others to fully experience the complexity of human emotions. It is important to seek support and professional help when needed, and to remember that it is okay to ask for help.