A positive attitude is absolutely crucial for most people’s mental health and wellness. But being overly positive, to an unreasonable degree, isn’t helpful for people who are struggling with issues.
When people are feeling dejected and bereft, hearing the words, “Hey, just cheer up!” isn’t going to make things better. It’s not as if the person hasn’t thought of that, it’s that it simply isn’t working for them right now.
Whitney Hawkins Goodman, a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist (LMFT) and owner of The Collaborative Counseling Center in Florida, has an Instagram account called @sitwithwhit, where she posts all sorts of useful charts, adages, and information for and about people suffering from various mental issues and disorders.
Recently, she posted a chart that deals with the issue of other people’s advice to be relentlessly positive, which she dubbed “toxic positivity.”
Goodman writes in the caption that she searched Pinterest for “positive sayings.” She put them in the chart alongside what would be more useful advice, in a column she calls “validation and hope.”
For example, if someone is really down after something bad has happened to them, instead of just a blanket statement like “See the good in everything,” Goodman suggests saying something along the lines of “It’s probably really hard to see any good in this situation. We’ll make sense of it all later.”
And instead of demanding that a person “Just be positive!” it’s a better idea to try something like, “I know there’s a lot that could go wrong. What could go right?”
People, from those in therapy to actual therapists, had a lot of feelings about the post. Most were really into it.
Some people had never heard of toxic positivity before.
And some people shared that they’d used toxic positivity to deal with their own problems in the past, with little success.
Most of the commenters felt that saying “positive vibes only” was an example of toxic positivity, but a few disagreed.
And some took umbrage when Goodman classified “never give up” as toxic positivity and Goodman responded in the comments.
Some people were just not down with the concept at all.
And some people really, really hated the use of the word “toxic.”
Goodman followed up her viral post with another, slightly amended chart.
View this post on Instagram
Bringing back my most infamous post with a few edits. I’ve realized people HATE the word toxic. I hear ya’ll. Got a lot of comments on “never give up.” Decided to keep it. There are relationships, life goals, plans and situations that is OK to give up on. Not everything needs to result in completion. Sometimes it is safer to give up. We owe each other the space to discuss the options. I added a few sayings here and moved things around based on your feedback. What are some other positive sayings that you think are totally dismissive?
Goodman isn’t saying there’s anything wrong with being positive, because it really is an important factor in mental well-being. The problem is, as she says, “dismissive” (or “toxic”) positivity—ignoring the fact that addressing the dark stuff is okay, too.