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What is toxic positivity and how do I respond to it?

Nov 20, 2023

What is toxic positivity and how do I respond to it?

I love talking about toxic positivity.

Toxic positivity is also sometimes taking the form of spiritual bypassing.

So it’s essentially this way of being like no negativity ever!

Which here is the thing you all, that’s not real life.

Anyone who is like, “Never talk about bad things, let’s only talk about good things,” the problem is, systems in which you are not allowed to address things that are negative or bad or challenging are ones in which people cannot grow and they are ripe for abuse.

Toxic positivity is often this way of like finding the positive in every situation.

So like, yes, your cat died but think about that they’re not in pain anymore.

What a beautiful place they have gone to in the afterlife.

Isn’t it so lovely that you got to have time with them?

Sometimes toxic positivity is this way that people shut down someone else’s pain or challenging feelings for the sake of their own comfort.

That they don’t feel comfortable with this other person being upset.

It makes them feel uncomfortable.

It makes them feel not sure what to do.

So what they are going to do instead is find a way to get out of these challenging feelings and into something more positive and easier and nicer.

And look, if there has ever been a great example of toxic positivity in a whole lot of ways, it’s the way that we are just like pretending COVID doesn’t exist anymore that we are just like back to normal.

Things are great.

We are just going to do a little bit eugenics.


People who are sick and old, they are probably going to die but that’s that the cost so we can still go out to dinner.

And I get it.

This is not about individual choices, right?

Individual choices right now are so strongly controlled by the way that the larger context is making it very, very difficult for any of us to make good choices.

And COVID numbers are surging, hospitalizations are surging.

Shit is real bad but no one is masking anymore and the government is sure shit isn’t telling anybody to mask because the pandemic is over.

The public health emergency is over, which is this way of trying to hang on to a positivity that is not rooted in reality and that is about papering over something that is difficult or uncomfortable rather than addressing something that needs to be addressed.

Spiritual bypassing is a thing that a lot of spiritual folk do some – of all different spiritual flavors and stripes that looks again to this finding a positive lens rather than dealing with challenging emotions.

And so, it could be the like, “Oh, yeah. I got in a car accident. I don’t know how am I going to afford another car. Oh, but God never sends you anything that you can’t handle, right?”

Or, “Yeah, I know these terrible things have been happening to me but this must be a way that I’m growing. This must be some of the growth that I need from the universe. This is the universe’s way of helping me to grow and develop and be better.”

We are, particularly here in the United States but in a lot of Western cultures, we are in societies that discourage us from engaging in too much death with challenging feelings or making space for challenging feelings.

Going back to COVID, we’ve lost over a million people in the United States.

How are we grieving that?

We lost years of time where we were isolated.

We were depressed.

We were scared.

We were unsafe.

How are we grieving and acknowledging that?

How are we acknowledging all of the fear and the worry and the anxiety that we had to hold during this pandemic and that many of us are still holding?

We aren’t.

There is this way that we just watch to pretend those hard feelings aren’t there, put them in a box, shove the box in the back of a closet, close the door of the closet, and never look at it again.

But that is not healthy.

That’s called repression.

And repression, man, it just takes those bad feelings, those challenging feelings and gives them all the space in the world to just keep swirling and growing and getting nastier and worse in the back of our heads.

Positivity is not bad.

There is nothing wrong with being positive.

And we need balance.

None of our feelings are bad feelings.

They might be challenging.

They might be hard.

But all of our feelings give us information.

They give us information about where we are hurting, where we are being wronged, whether our boundaries are being violated, if we are grieving, if we’ve lost something.

Our feelings are telling us things.

Our feelings are giving us very important feedback about how we are and what is going on for us.

When we try to avoid any feelings that feel challenging or that feel uncomfortable or that we don’t like, we end up not just like shoving those feelings into a place where they get to like fester forever.

We also end up losing on the information that we were supposed to get from those feelings.

If I refused to let myself feel angry and somebody does something terrible to me, it’s going to be much harder for me to identify that what they did was not okay because the anger is what helps us see that.

If I am feeling really sad because I lost something but I try to just convince myself to move on, everything is fine, just keep going forward, best life, whatever.

Look amazing.

I’m not giving myself space to grieve.

We need those challenging feelings.

And so when all we are willing to experience is the positive, when we are like, “Good vibes only! Good vibes only!” what we are doing is limiting our lives.

We are limiting our ability to understand ourselves and the world.

We are limiting our abilities to advocate for ourselves.

We are setting ourselves up with a whole bunch of landmines that we are going to end up tripping later that are just going to sit there waiting for us to hit them.

So toxic positivity is again, this way of trying to shut down anything that feels challenging or uncomfortable or like not good to us for the sake of just focusing on the positive.

And while on the surface it makes sense why folks want to do that, it is much worse for you in the long run.

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