When Does True Positivity Become Toxic?

Since the pandemic, people have noticed that they are forced into staying in a positive frame of mind for the sake of keeping other optimistic.

Alyssa Masiewicz, Editor-in-Chief

   We’re all in this together! Many of us first heard that phrase in High School Musical back in 2006 during the last dance number of the movie. 15 years later, with the growing pandemic, it has an entirely different meaning. Instead of imagining happy and cheerful teens dancing and singing around a gym, we imagine the world during the COVID-19 pandemic where everyone is quarantine and scared of the unknown. Everyone is experiencing and going through the pandemic differently, and the constant pressure of positive thoughts could turn toxic. 

  “Toxic positivity is the belief that you should maintain positive attitudes, mindsets, and feelings no matter how difficult a situation is,” said Social Worker Ty Curtis. “[It is] anything that denies, minimizes or invalidates the natural and normal negative thoughts and feelings that we all experience in the face of hard things.”

   Toxic positivity is more common than most people think. Common phrases usually associated with it are “It could be worse,” “Just look on the bright side,” “You’ll get over it,” or even “Think positive thoughts.”

   Junior Emma Ellis has spotted how toxic positivity has been around since before the pandemic, but in light of it, there has been more recognition of it. She has noticed that she is guilty of spreading it, but not intentionally. 

   “I try to be positive in some situations, hoping it will brighten spirits and make things not as difficult. But sometimes it’s not what others want to hear,” Ellis said.

I try to be positive in some situations, hoping it will brighten spirits and make things not as difficult. But sometimes it’s not what others want to hear,

— Emma Ellis


 Students struggling with negative thoughts or feelings are not encouraged to keep them to themselves as they can create long-term problems such as suppressed emotions, isolation, shame, and guilt. 

   Ellis has observed some effects of toxic positive thinking in herself, and she is not alone; many students are feeling the same way going to school through a pandemic and the constant positive reassurance from teachers and staff even when things are not always okay. 

   “I think for some people or students toxic positivity can possibly bring a feeling of being lost or thinking the way they feel is invalid. As a student dealing with schooling during a pandemic, toxic positivity can get overwhelming and repetitive after a while,” Ellis said. 

   There is a line between positivity and toxic positivity. When people no longer feel comfortable sharing their feelings because of the constant positive mindset that they feel pressured to have, that is a sign of toxic positivity since they are rejecting the normal feeling of sadness or anger. 

   “Optimism becomes toxic positivity when we begin to deny the reality of the problems that we are facing. This is toxic because it leads us to believe we should not be feeling negative emotions or thinking negative thoughts and robs us of the drive to work to address our problems,” Curtis said.

   In order to move forward and avoid using toxic positivity, people need to learn where that line is drawn between supportive and good positivity and toxic positivity which can seriously harm other’s mental health. 

  German and former Introduction to Psychology teacher Claudia Riedy has seen toxic positivity on social media, especially since many people only post the highlights, or the good parts, of their life.  These highlights create a false image of how everything is okay even through hard times.  

   “I imagine students might feel like they can’t share when things are difficult because and/or they need to put on a brave face that everything is fine,” Riedy said. “I would encourage students to share what’s going on with an adult they trust because pretending everything is fine isn’t a healthy long-term solution.”

  Students are not the only ones affected by toxic positivity, teachers are also going through a similar situation by trying to act ‘normal’ in a school year that is anything but.

   “I’m being very mindful this year to provide normalcy where I can while also making space to acknowledge that this year isn’t like any other year. We are all human beings doing our best,” Riedy said. 

  If students or teachers begin to see themselves denying their negative emotions, Healthline says to allow yourself to acknowledge those emotions in order to help yourself develop healthier coping mechanisms. Talking to a trusted adult is also a good first step. 

   As the world continues to move through the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to make sure the community supports one another and cut down on toxic positivity. 

   “I hope that we encourage the creation of a culture at West where people are supported and encouraged to be open about how they’re doing, even when we’re on the other side of the pandemic,” Riedy said. “The more we can be honest about how we’re feeling the more people will feel comfortable doing the same.”