On Toxic Gratitude and Harmful Positivity

Gratitude and positivity are wonderful traits to possess. They allow us to focus on what is going well and express optimism.

As with anything in life, when not practised mindfully, gratitude and positivity can also become toxic and harmful.

Here are some sentences that fall in these categories. It is surprising how often we use these whilst believing that we are helping.

  • Positive vibes only!
  • It could be worse
  • Don’t be so negative
  • At least you have…
  • At least you are…
  • Focus on the bright side
  • If he/she/I can do it, so can you!
  • Don’t worry
  • Everything will work out

The harm that exists with the above statements is that they are covering up emotions that are uncomfortable. They do not acknowledge that the person (or you) are allowed to feel what they are feeling. When we use the above statements, we may be:

  • Shaming the person (or ourselves) for feeling emotions other than positivity and gratitude
  • Minimising and dismissing the person because their emotions are bothersome
  • “Helping” or “Fixing” rather than validating the person’s emotions
  • Telling someone what to do, how to feel, or how they should be feeling because you don’t like or agree with their expression

To be a healthy human is to experience a wide range of emotions, not just positivity, and certainly not just gratitude. It is normal to feel sad, upset, numb, lost, angry, hopeless, etc.

Rather than cover up these feelings with gratitude and positivity, a much healthier option is to process your emotions. Ask yourself:

  • Why am I feeling this way?
  • Are my feelings valid based on the situation?
  • How can I manage this feeling?

If you are trying to help, perhaps acknowledge and validate their emotions and experience. Some useful statements (depending on the context) that help with acknowledgement and validation are:

  • Sounds like its hard
  • It is normal to feel sad
  • You have the right to feel the way you feel
  • Your experience is valid
  • I am sorry that you are going through this

If you are on the receiving end of toxic gratitude and harmful positivity, it may be time to set some boundaries. It may be time to say, “I don’t feel so positive and gratuitous about this situation”. This is very important because often when we use gratitude and positivity, we do it with the best of intentions, not quite realising if it’s having a toxic and harmful impact. In addition, it is not anyone’s place to tell you how you should be feeling. You are entitled to all of your emotions.

If you are the person using toxic gratitude and harmful positivity, notice the precise moments when you are triggered to turn the conversation towards gratitude and positivity. What prevents you from validating the person (or yourself) in their moment of not-feeling-so-grateful-and-positive? How often do you do the same to your self? Why do you perceive the need to be grateful and positive at all times? Why do you feel that it’s your place to tell someone how they should feel? Self-reflection is a very important exercise.

At the end of the day, we all just want to be heard, validated, and have the freedom to express and feel our feelings.

ALL your feelings are valid and welcome.

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