I was once told (more than once to be fair): “Just think positive. You’re only depressed because you keep thinking negative thoughts.” If only it worked that way but life (and certainly mental illness) is never that simple. The concept of toxic positivity in those words is more recent but the subject has been around for a long time. Positivity has its time and place but as someone struggling with my mental health for years I’ve often found it to be unhelpful. Context matters. Platitudes were actually making me feel worse. Whitney Goodman’s book Toxic Positivity explains why.
Reading this book was very validating. The introduction to the concept of toxic positivity was brilliant. Acknowledging where positivity is helpful and where it becomes more harmful. This sums it up quite well:
“Healthy positivity means making space for both reality and hope. Toxic positivity denies an emotion and forces us to suppress it.”
One of the key takeaways is this: You can’t force gratitude. It’s not about being negative all the time but about having a balance. Emotions are not right or wrong (the way we respond to them can be) therefore it’s important to make space for ALL emotions. Processing our emotions is necessary because they will show up anyway.
At one point Goodman says, “radical acceptance is the antidote to toxic positivity.” I think it depends on the context. Radical acceptance is a DBT concept developed by Marsha Linehan which I’ve found helpful in certain situations but sometimes being told to accept what is becomes very similar to toxic positivity (at least for me). Chapter 7 is a good read on how to be a supportive person and where it becomes important to have boundaries. Probably the best chapter in my opinion.
How can positivity be toxic? It definitely can and this book is a good introduction to begin understanding the how and why. I follow the author on Instagram @sitwithwhit and had high expectations for this book particularly after reading some early reviews. It’s not amazing. The examples used aren’t great (probably what I most disliked about the book) but it was a nice read. One that doesn’t make you feel bad. Some decent ideas/solutions to navigating toxic positivity. Worth a read.