Mental Health

6 Ways to Avoid Toxic Positivity: Why “Looking on the Bright Side” Isn’t Always a Good Thing

February 7, 2022

6 Ways to Avoid Toxic Positivity: Why “Looking on the Bright Side” Isn’t Always a Good Thing

No matter who you are, at some point, you will face adversity and likely even tragedy within your life. All too often, we are encouraged to ‘look at the bright side,’ consider ‘it could always be worse’ or that ‘everything happens for a reason’. These statements may be meant to be comforting to an individual undergoing a crisis, but they can actually have the opposite effect on someone experiencing pain and loss. 

Not Suppressing Emotions

This is the fallacy of toxic positivity, and it can lead to an individual burying feelings of loss, hurt, anger and grief, which then leads to these emotions coming out in ways we never wished them to, such as lashing out at others, not taking care of our own needs or even substance usage. Instead of falling into this trap, I would encourage individuals to instead look at doing something different when a friend, family member or co-worker experiences a difficult time within their life. 

6 Ways to Support

  1. Listen more than talk. Your words are important and meaningful, but right now the other person needs to have the full focus of your attention. Instead of waiting for a chance to speak, focus more on actively listening for what the person is saying.
  2. Do not offer advice unless asked for it. You are not there to ‘fix’ a problem but instead to be a support in a time of need.
  3. Check in with the person later on. This can be through a text, a letter, a call or face-to-face.
  4. Allow the person to express their emotions. The sight of another person crying affects us and can often lead us to attempt to have the person stop crying so we do not feel so uncomfortable. Instead, simply be there for them. Hold their hand if your relationship is strong, but no matter what, allow their tears.
  5. Do not fear silence. We are all geared to want to fill ‘uncomfortable silences,’ but I would encourage you to allow these to happen. It often lets the person have time for self reflection or to simply allow their feelings to dissipate naturally.
  6. Finally, always remember the need for self care. For anyone who has ever flown, as the instructions go, make sure you put your mask on before you try to help someone else put on theirs. This is true with regards to our own emotional well being. We need to have our own mental health in a good place before we seek to assist others. 
    • Take time for yourself daily
    • Journal
    • Read
    • Listen to music
    • Talk to a friend
    • Go outside
    • Exercise
    • Meditate
    • Take a long bath
    • Walk
    • Seek balance within your life

Reach out to a CHI Health Behavioral Health provider for more questions. We offer in-person and virtual therapy sessions with our team of licensed mental health therapists.

  1. Karen Williams, MC, LIMHP

    William, this was a great read, and I will use this in my work in EAP for CHI Health. Timely. Well written. Very helpful for all of us! Thank you.

  2. Dr. Jalila Hudson

    This was really a great article, wise advice, and on time in this season of burnout and high stress in the medical field and beyond. Sometimes you're just not going to be okay right away, and that's okay, too. Deal with it, and let other people take their time to deal, too.

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