Thinking positively is a powerful and useful technique of approaching a difficult situation, but when not used appropriately it can have many negative consequences. This is known as toxic positivity, a belief that despite a person’s painful circumstances they should focus on staying positive. When positivity is used as a way to cover up or silence someone’s feelings, it can become incredibly toxic.
The effects of toxic positivity
Denying and repressing emotions while putting on a ‘happy’ face and maintaining a positive mindset can cause worsening mental health and even PTSD. Toxic positivity can come from others giving advice that invalidates a person’s feelings if they are feeling low or repeatedly trying to make light of a bad situation. It can also come from a person’s own belief that they shouldn’t feel down because ‘others have it worse’. Believing they have to be positive and happy all the time, can also mean a person tries to avoid any negative feelings like anger and hurt, allowing these to build up rather than face them.
A rise in toxic positivity
Everyone has felt an increase in stress and hardship, one way or another, because of the pandemic. Some have lost their jobs, others have lost loved ones or have been ill themselves. Research has shown that overall there has been an increase in mental health problems. As a result of this, there has been a rise in toxic positivity, with some people being pushed by others, or themselves, to swallow their feelings and be grateful that they aren’t in worse situations. For example, those who have been furloughed may have been told to be glad to still have their jobs and that they shouldn’t feel depressed. Others could have been told that they should be grateful that they are not having to shield, even though they may be struggling with other issues such as loneliness.
Avoiding toxic positivity in the workplace
Some employees who have been working from home will be struggling with transitioning back to their on site workplaces, while others may be dealing with negative impacts of the pandemic. Employees should not be made to feel guilty about the way they are feeling and how they have coped so far during the pandemic. It is important that employers look out for toxic positivity in their teams and do everything possible to manage it. Below are some strategies managers can use to achieve this:
- Workers must be allowed to feel what they are feeling and not shamed for their emotions. If a worker is sad or frustrated it is important to allow them to feel that way and not offer unsolicited advice as this can be unhelpful.
- Actively listening is another way to help avoid toxic positivity. Managers and leaders encouraging employees to explore their challenges can be helpful. Actively listening can help to validate employees’ feelings and encourages them to express their feelings more openly. This may also lead to a more open and honest workplace culture and even aid in creating a culture of kindness.
Zoe Lightowler likes to express herself through writing, baking, and anything crafty! Being chronically ill herself means she is very passionate about raising awareness of long-term illnesses, especially those which may be invisible to others. Zoe also loves animals, comedy films, and taking care of her many house plants.