• Maria O'Meara

Toxic Positivity




Since the 1980’s we have seen the wellness and wellbeing movement gaining significant momentum across the globe.


Today many are mindful of wellness and wellbeing and tailor their lifestyle to accommodate the importance of it. Wellness is widely understood to be the physical state of existence whereas wellbeing is a much more of a holistic approach to optimal health by incorporating both physical and psychological aspects of health.


Over the last year with the pandemic transforming our lives the wellness and wellbeing concepts have been at the centre of our attention.

The last twelve months have made many of us much more aware of our wellbeing and wellness. We have been encouraged to take ownership of our health and make any changes that may provide us with a more resilient existence.

You do not have to look hard to find established techniques and advice. Equally, new and fantastic innovative ideas emerge daily.

Social media channels and wellbeing gurus push slogans such as ‘Be and stay positive!’, ‘Good vibes only!’, ‘Happiness is a choice’ so to capture our attention, to inspire us and engage us with the movement further.

I have used those statements myself, and I have been a strong advocate of developing and nurturing a positive attitude and optimism.


I am a firm believer that we have a choice, a choice to view life and our journey with either a positive or negative attitude. Being optimistic does not necessarily mean being ignorant of struggles or concerns. An optimistic approach helps us anchor onto possibilities rather than fixating on obstacles and restrictions.


That said, we need to be mindful of the fact that extreme and superficial positivism can indeed be toxic and harmful by preventing the individual from acknowledging, legitimising, and addressing their feelings of grief, fear, anxiety, stress, depression, or sadness.


The culture of ‘Toxic positivity’ promotes a pretence of happiness.


Hiding and masking troubled emotions, worries, fears and anxieties with false superficial acts and statements of fake positivity can have an adverse effect.


The pressure to stay productive and resilient (if only appearing so) during difficult or traumatic times can evoke feelings of failure, guilt, anger, and disappointment. A ‘false positive’ attitude to a serious and challenging circumstance, could lead to the opposite outcome.


Toxic Positivity is typically generated by others and may actually be well intended despite its potential for harm, suffering and upset.


Unrealistic expectations of ‘forced positivity’ can result in people supressing their emotions. This lack of acknowledgement and validation of their situation and state of being can lead to self- doubt and confusion.


Dr Jaime Zuckerman, a clinical psychologist states, “toxic positivity is the assumption, either by one’s self or others, that despite a person’s emotional pain or difficult situation, they should have a positive mindset (or radiate positive vibes). He also explains that, “toxic positivity, at its core, is an avoidance strategy used to push away and invalidate any internal discomfort.”… “Avoidance or suppression of emotional discomfort leads to increased anxiety, depression, and overall worsening of mental health.” ..“Failure to effectively process emotions in a timely manner can lead to a myriad of psychological difficulties, including disrupted sleep, increased substance abuse, risk of an acute stress response, prolonged grief, or even PTSD.”


Dr. Viktor Emil Frankl M.D., PhD. (1905–1997) an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor spoke about ‘Tragic Optimism’ in his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’. ‘Tragic Optimism’ refers to the acknowledgements and acceptance of suffering and challenges and pain while at the same time reframes those challenges and pains to meaningful lessons that generate hope and life purpose.

Dr. Frankl in his words explains that “tragic optimism, in brief it means that one is, and remains, optimistic in spite of the “tragic triad”. … an optimism in the face of tragedy and in view of the human potential which at its best always allows for: (1) turning suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment; (2) deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better; and (3) deriving from life’s transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action.”

Taking the above explanations into consideration and reflecting upon them please allow yourself to express your feelings freely with those who are most likely to listen and be supportive. Equally we must all afford to those around us the same opportunity.

Every year in May (in UK) we have a week dedicated to Mental Health Awareness. so let’s all take the time to remind one another that wellness and wellbeing derive from a healthy response to the challenges of life. We can find our strength through our vulnerability and by embracing our true nature. Be honest and authentic with ourselves and others even if that means exposing our own vulnerability. Through absolute acceptance, we can open the door for healing to take place.



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