The Real Harm of Toxic Positivity

girl making a grin

Just look on the bright side, right? While some positivity can be good, too much positivity can ignore the healing that needs to be done. In recovery, your clients will not only need to understand the harms of ignoring negativity, but also how they can better support those who are in crisis (including themselves). Learning how to recognize toxic positivity can help your client know that it’s okay to admit and deal with negativity during hard times.

Ignoring Negativity Isn’t Realistic

Hardships happen every day around the world. If your client is in recovery, chances are they have faced some difficult circumstances. The people in their lives might not be as supportive as they need them to be, even if they are trying. Some people find it difficult to deal with negativity in their own lives because of what others have taught them. The truth is that life is filled with negativity. Ignoring the bad doesn’t give them the nuanced perspective they need in order to heal.  

It Becomes a Form of Shame

Acknowledging this can be important for both healthcare professionals and their clients because it impacts how we process their experiences. Socially or culturally, they might be used to toxic positivity in some forms. It can be difficult to talk about the negative because so many feel pressured to hide it out of shame. Encouraging your client to talk about the bad things allows them to heal and grow from the experience. 

It Can Keep Them From Reaching Out

Clients can feel like a burden sometimes. Toxic positivity often makes those who need help feel worse about reaching out to their therapist or their support system. They might fear that if they ask for help, they’re only spreading negativity. So they hold back until things hit a major breaking point and become unmanageable, when reaching out earlier could have mitigated any extra trauma they endured. 

This can be a dangerous scenario, especially if the client is at risk of relapsing or is struggling with their mental health and on the verge of a downward spiral. When clients understand the role that toxic positivity plays in their lives and how it could be stopping them from seeking the support they need, they can confront the issue. And hopefully, in the future, they will seek out help before it’s too late.

What Toxic Positivity Looks Like

Many don’t recognize toxic positivity because it has become so commonplace. Everyday phrases might not register as toxic because they are used so frequently in greeting cards, on t-shirts, and to give encouragement or condolences. One example of a toxic phrase would be “Good vibes only.” This phrase ignores the possibility of any negativity. For a person in recovery, it may imply that you aren’t someone they can come to when things get hard. Deep and meaningful relationships should honor all spectrums of emotion, even the negative ones.

Another common toxic phrase is “Happiness is a choice.” This phrase is toxic because it shames the person for feeling sad, angry, or disappointed about something, even if it’s perfectly natural to feel that way. Instead of processing their emotions as they come, they might blame themselves for choosing something else instead of “happiness.” 

How to Embrace Negativity in a Healthy Way

Your client will have to deal with negativity at some point, either in their own life or the life of someone they care about. When your client is dealing with negative emotions during a difficult time, they first need to notice and admit how they feel. Accepting their emotions will help them process them. 

When they are supporting a friend or loved one, the best thing they can do to help them is to listen and not just say what they think they want to hear. Their friend needs validation and support. They need to know that they have people on their side who understands their pain.

The 5th-Step and How It Combats Toxic Positivity

The Twelve Steps give your client a guideline to their road to recovery. The steps can be applied to plenty of scenarios outside of their direct context towards addiction. One step to consider when thinking about toxic positivity is the 5th-Step: “Admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” When a person reaches out for help, they’re admitting that there is something wrong in their life. The shame that so many feel about admitting they need help, especially if they personally contributed to their problem, is caused by toxic positivity. In the 5th-Step, your client is admitting to a higher power, themselves, and to other people something negative. This can be extremely difficult to do in a world where people feel like they always need to be positive, but it’s a vital step in recovery

It might be easier to just ignore the negativity in your life, but facing it is an essential part of the healing process. Your client will need to face a lot of difficult emotions during recovery, and that means coming to terms with negative experiences and feelings. Once these feelings are accepted and processed, it can make the healing process much easier to complete. 
Because toxic positivity is so prevalent in our culture, it’s normal to feel ashamed or feel like a burden to others. But there is absolutely no shame in reaching out and asking for help when life doesn’t go as planned. At Jaywalker Lodge, our care providers and recovery community are dedicated to creating an understanding environment where men who suffer from addiction learn how to conquer everything that life throws at them. We’re here to address the negative, embrace the positive, and change your life for good. To learn more, call us now at (866) 529-9255.

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