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Toxic Positivity

Updated: Mar 25, 2022

His words looped on repeat in my head as I drove out of the University parking lot.

“I feel like the weight of the world is off my shoulders. I just told my major professor I am leaving grad school.”

What? Why?

Sure, it hadn’t been easy. Grad school is hard! No warning signs and he’s just now telling me, his wife of five years!

I finally gathered some words and asked, “Why now?” After a moment, he shared that he had tried to tell me for the last eight months, but I kept pushing down his feelings. Here I thought I had encouraged him to persevere, to never give up, to keep going. Instead, the support I offered was toxic.

Toxic positivity happens when an individual sharing something difficult is met with encouragement that discounts the hard they are attempting to communicate. It is like giving a car an oil change without ever draining the old motor oil. Pouring seemingly encouraging phrases on someone, like “it will be ok” or “you will get through this,” can leave them feeling even more overwhelmed. This sort of positivity discounts the hard emotions deep within, silences grief, and causes depression and anxiety to swell.

When someone shares something vulnerable, acknowledge the hard. Help them let the feelings out by observing, noticing and listening. Allow it all to be messy. This type of support leads to greater authenticity and more effective, long-term healing.

Just consider, what this could do for those around us, and even for ourselves, if instead of trying to make it all better, we just sit in the undone and let hurt be.

Below is an example of how to hold someone’s pain without being toxic:

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