It is Time to Pull the Plug on these 6 Toxic Positivity Sentences

What is toxic positivity? What is it not? 

This is an ongoing argument. For me, toxic positivity negates human emotions. Mark Manson says it a lot better: 

“Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience. Any attempt to escape the negative, to avoid it or quash it or silence it, only backfires. The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of struggle is a struggle. The denial of failure is a failure. Hiding what is shameful is itself a form of shame.”

The image for The Boonly blog about Toxic positivity

So, are we canceling hope or happiness by not being toxically positive? 

The short answer is NO. 

The long answer? John Green has the most beautiful one:

“Hope is a funny thing because in a way it’s everywhere. Like people will say “Everything happens for a reason” or “It will all work out in the end” — which are very hopeful sentiments — it’s just that they are also, you know, bullshit. And for me anyway, they just don’t hold in the face of real suffering. But I’ll tell you what does hold up for me. There’s an Emily Dickinson poem that starts out, “Hope is the thing with feathers – That perches in the soul – And sings the tune without the words – and never stops – at all.”

And you’ll notice that Emily Dickinson doesn’t say that one never stops hearing the song of the hope — only that it doesn’t stop playing. 

I’m really sorry that you’re in so much pain, and your pain is real, but the song of hope is still singing. And I know you can’t hear it, but someday soon you will.”

So, no, not being toxically positive does not mean you are canceling your hope or happiness. You are encouraging hope and lasting happiness by standing in the face of truth, accepting your emotions, and healing from the ones you need to. 

Let’s dive deep into the topic and look at some toxic positivity sentences we all say or listen to almost every day. It is high time we be aware of this rising cultural issue and change the narrative.

What is Toxic Positivity?

As per Sokal, Trudel, and Babb’s research paper:

“Toxic positivity seeks to reject, deny, or displace any acknowledgment of the stress, negativity, and possible disabling features of trauma, and instead looks only through rose-colored glasses.”

This paper also goes on to explain what radical positivity is:

“In contrast, a positive outlook acknowledges both the negative, challenging aspects as well as the more optimistic frames and pathways. Optimism, unlike toxic positivity, encompasses both reality and pathology instead of ignoring potential and actual psychological disability experienced by some people in response to trauma.”

In simpler terms, toxic positivity does not acknowledge negative emotions or experiences. On the other hand, radical positivity lets you accept and feel your emotions as they are and heal from them if needed. 

How does Toxic Positivity Harm you?

Mahmoud Kehdr, a mental health advocate, tells in his TED Talk how going through mental health issues at a young age and constantly listening to toxically positive sentences like “You don’t know what struggle is” and “It’s just a phase” led him to the brink of suicide. 

Toxically positive sentences negate the pain and emotions of people, making them feel like their emotions or experiences are misplaced — that they are not supposed to be going through what they are going through. This can make them feel invalidated and cause them serious harm.

One study by Levenson proved that suppressing human emotion can lead to severe psychological stress. 

The problem is that toxic positivity has taken root in the global culture, and we are both victims and assailants of it. Let’s look at six of the most common toxically positive sentences we either say or hear on a regular basis and change the narrative:

6 Common Toxic Positive Sentences We All Need to Pull the Plug On

Why these six out of thousands? 

These are very common sentences we say or hear regularly, which means they are enough to help you see what toxically positive communication can look like so you can avoid it moving forward. 

Let’s dig in:

1. Positive Vibes Only

What are other similar sentences?

  • Don’t think negatively. 
  • Think happy/positive thoughts.
  • Happiness is a choice. 

How is this sentence toxically positive?

This sentence outright negates your emotions which are not categorized as “happy.” It means that the person saying this is only available for you in your happiness, not in your sadness or pain. This sentence can make you feel immense guilt about how you feel, and you might want to shut down your emotions and be happy just for the sake of it. 

What can you say instead of this?

  • I love you and I am here for you. 
  • It’s okay to feel like this. 
  • It’s tough. Do you want to talk more about it or do something lighthearted? 

2. Other people have it worse

What are other similar sentences?

  • It could be worse.
  • You have it better than other people. 
  • Quit complaining. You have so much to be grateful for.

How is this sentence toxically positive?

Just because someone else has it worse does not mean your pain or problems are invalid. If you struggle with your mental health despite having a good life, it does not mean you do not need care. If you have a toxic workplace, it does not mean you are not supposed to complain about it because Palestine is being bombed. 

What can you say instead of this?

  • You are not alone in this. I am here for you.
  • Bad things happen sometimes. Let me know how I can help. 
  • It’s okay to feel this way. There is support available for this. Do you want to talk with a professional about this?

3. Crying won’t solve anything

What are other similar sentences?

  • Come on, don’t cry! Cheer up!
  • Smile, don’t cry. It will all be okay. 

How is this sentence toxically positive?

This sentence invalidates a very healthy reaction to pain or sadness. This is the sentence we often use with kids, especially if they are boys. We associate crying with being a “girly” thing to do as if crying or being girly is supposed to be humiliating. 

What can you say instead of this?

  • It is okay to let it out. Is there something I can do to make it easier for you?
  • It’s okay to cry. Do you need a hug? 
  • If you want to share anything, I am here to listen whenever you are ready. 

4. Everything happens for a reason

What are other similar sentences?

  • There must be a greater good in this. 
  • Trust the universe. 
  • Look at the silver lining/brighter side.

How is this sentence toxically positive?

Sometimes bad things happen without reason just like good things. However, even if you believe that everything happens for a reason, it is not a good sentence to use when someone shares their pain with you. For someone in pain, it can be hard to associate good with something terrible that has happened to them.

What can you say instead of this?

  • Sometimes bad things happen. How can I help you in this?
  • I am really sorry it happened. Let me know what I can do to make this easier for you. 
  • I am here for you. (Offer to help with a specific task/thing)

5. Failure is not an option

What are other similar sentences?

  • Don’t ever give up.
  • Don’t quit.
  • Quitting is not an option.

How is this sentence toxically positive?

You should not tell someone that “failure or quitting is not an option” because it is incorrect. Failing is an integral part of life. As for quitting, it’s better to quit something that no longer brings you joy or serves its purpose rather than doing it just for the sake of not quitting. 

What can you say instead of this?

  • Failure is a part of life and growth. 
  • Hey, it’s totally okay to fail. 
  • It’s okay to take a break. 

6. If I can do it, anybody can

What are other similar sentences?

  • It’s not that difficult. 
  • I did this in 30 days and so can you. 

How is this sentence toxically positive?

One person’s success story does not define everyone’s. Assuming that anyone can do what you did is ignorance. It’s such a toxic sentence that it’s not only time to pull the plug on it but also call on people who use this sentence. 

What can you say instead of this?

  • Everyone’s journey is different, and so are privileges, capabilities, and limitations. I am sharing my story with you. I hope it can help you in your journey. If you have any specific questions, I’d love to answer them and help you according to my knowledge and experience. 
  • It’s okay to grow slow.
  • Growth takes time. 
Image in Boonly blog post about toxic positivity and true friendship

How to Spot Toxic Positivity?

You might have said some of the sentences mentioned above with good and helpful intention. Many people say it with good intention, which is why these sentences have become so common. However, these sentences invalidate life’s most painful emotions. These sentences blame and shame you for feeling those emotions.

The first step to being a genuinely positive person and ditching toxic positivity for good is to be aware of what it is. Dr. Allison, a clinical psychologist, shares three ways to spot toxic positivity:

  • Toxic positivity is overly simple

The person who just lost a parent knows they are an adult and will eventually move on from this pain. However, they do not want to hear someone say, “Time will heal this wound. At least, you are old enough to take care of yourself.” It is not that simple. 

  • It does not leave room for pain and difficult emotions

Sadness or difficult emotions are off-limits for a toxically positive person. They want you when you are all fun and happy. However, as soon as you are sad or in pain, they tell you that you should be happy and think positively. (Duh!)

  • All-or-nothing words
  • Everybody
  • Nobody
  • Everything
  • Nothing
  • Always
  • Never
  • Every time 

When someone uses these words, they generalize your situation, leaving no space for your pain and sadness. So, watch out for such words. 

How to Practice Not Being Toxic Positive?

You know how to spot toxic positivity. It is time to know what genuine and radical positivity is. It is being positive but in a way where you acknowledge all the emotions of people you love and care for, making them feel validated and safe around you. To be genuinely positive, you must genuinely care for people and their emotions. Genuine positivity also builds strong relationships. 

Unlike toxic positivity, genuine positivity takes more time and effort. It requires you to be present for your loved ones. It comes a little harder than toxic positivity which anyone can throw at you. 

So, next time someone shares their emotions with you, listen to them, truly care for them, and be available to help them. 

How to Cope with Toxic Positivity?

People are either toxically positive intentionally so they can be only available for you when you are happy or unintentionally when they want to be helpful but are unaware of the right way. 

Spot these two kinds of people around you. Then, create a distance from people who intentionally use toxic positivity to not be present for you fully. 

However, communicate your emotions with people who love and care for you but end up using toxic positive phrases unintentionally that make you feel guilty or shameful about your emotions. If it is too hard to do, send them this article so they can be aware of toxic positivity too. 

Storytime: One of my friends was struggling with body image because she was gaining a lot of weight due to hypothyroidism. However, she was uncomfortable sharing this information with her mom who kept commenting on her weight gain which worsened her mental health. She knew her mother really cared for her and only wanted her to be healthy. So, she asked her doctor to call her mother and explain her situation after which her mother stopped commenting on her weight and started being present for her health. 

You can do this too.

The End Note: Toxic Positivity is a lifestyle.

You do not choose happiness but you choose to be truly present for the people you love and care about. Being toxically positive is a personality trait that translates into your lifestyle and defines your relationships with others. Knowing how to care for the people you love is crucial so you can be present in their joy and pain in the right manner. 

One thing worth mentioning here is that you can also be toxically positive with yourself by telling yourself to stop crying or stop feeling sad and be happy about everything. This can lead you to self-hating and self-shaming which can deteriorate your mental health. It is important to acknowledge and embrace your emotions and give them their due space. 

Be kind to others as well as yourself. 

by Arooha Arif