Toxic Positivity: Too Much Optimism Can Be Worse Than Sadness

It’s a deeply rooted message in society, especially since Martin Seligman popularized the term “positive psychology” decades ago. A lot of people took this upbeat talk and promoted it (with the best of intentions, I don’t deny it).

However, some professionals, authors and companies they abused this optimistic discourse, in some cases to the extreme counterproductive.

    Toxic positivity: being overly optimistic is also harmful

    Motivational speeches and phrases like “you can do anything”, “sometimes you win, sometimes you learn” or “anything is possible if you believe in yourself” are easily absorbed by the masses (whether they improve or not the results), are messages very well received by anyone.

    however, Sometimes the path to mental health is through validating all of our emotions. (Be more or less disagreeable), and don’t deny human pain by forcing a false joy that is sometimes not genuine.

    And the big brands have known this for a long time: people are more likely to buy anything if it makes them smile, even if it’s not a necessary thing.

    The commodification of happiness

    Extreme optimism encourages impulse buying and consumerism.

    And that’s the basis of the self-help book market, a lot of pseudoscience, and mug and T-shirt merchandising with well-meaning phrases like: smile is the solution to all your problems (but it is not always). It’s a cheap and affordable anesthetic, and sometimes it’s just one more product.

    In addition to looking harmless, it is very accessible: in many cases, it immediately ensures a little uplifting of the mood (Behavioral reinforcement), although it rarely improves our lives in the long term, beyond the simple placebo effect.

    Social pressure to hide problems

    Some people may even find themselves “stuck” with motivational phrases, quotes from famous people, real dogmas like “forbidden to surrender”, which they not only try to apply with themselves (regardless of their situation. specific or individual context), but who put pressure on other people around them to get on the chariot of the new mentality.

    And this is it the external pressure can be very strong and sometimes sin with little tact, Promote non-empathetic reactions to the suffering of others: “you do not try hard enough”, “you have to believe in yourself”, “encouragement, strong people always stand up”.

    And whether with this tactless speech you can put other people is a very difficult dilemma: either you follow me or you are a weak person. “Being happy is very easy, and if you don’t get it right away, it’s because you are doing it wrong.”

    With the doctrine “all your happiness depends on you” is also implicit the message “all your suffering depends on you”. The logical conclusion is that if I am in pain, it is my fault.

    With this philosophy of life, many people forget that context matters, and not everyone can achieve the same goals using the same methods.

      Deny suffering or obstacles

      The discourse of extreme positivity it forces people to wear rose-colored glasses with which they only see part of reality: The sweetest part, that of victories, learning, gains, joy. At the same time, he denies the “ugly” part of reality: not so pleasant emotions, like sadness, anger or fear.

      In a very unscientific way, they are labeled as “negative emotions”, and the message that these are “bad emotions” and that we should avoid feeling them is implied, because they are always bad for us.

      This approach (almost sectarian in some cases) it creates an alternate reality in the minds of people, where there are no problems or obstacles, And where willpower and desire are all you need to be successful in life and achieve whatever you set out to do.

      In this false omnipotence, we forget that suffering is an extra part of life, and that less pleasant emotions also have an evolutionary function, and that recognizing and expressing them is essential to our survival and our sanity.

      Because no matter how much “happiness glasses” we put on, the problems and obstacles will continue here, and if we deny and exclude emotions like fear, we will not be able to make sensible decisions to protect ourselves or take precautions in the face of real risks and dangers of life.

      The infantilization of life

      In this biased view of life taken to the extreme, a person can become very childish.

      He denies himself the possibility of dealing with problems in a mature way typical of an adult: accepting difficulties and frustration, enduring pain with dignity and mobilizing our resources to improve ourselves. Optimistically, of course, but realistically, and not forgetting that to overcome many difficulties we will need a little strategy.

      And a very bitter truth for many people: things are not always going to turn out the way we would like, not having the necessary resources, or just bad luck.

      Desire isn’t always everything, context matters. Simply put, not everyone can be an astronaut, and it doesn’t hurt or take away any meaning in life.

      Lack of empathy: forced smiles

      Unfortunately, when some people encounter misfortune or a bitter event (illness, financial failure, death of a loved one), Sometimes people brainwashed with toxic positivity show up and start pulling motivational phrases lectures or books, as if they were programmed robots.

      It’s not nice to see other people in pain, and sometimes we can have a tendency to force the other person to be happy right away, because we feel bad that they are in pain.

      Again, there are very good intentions, but it’s often best to help the person validate their emotions and give them the space they need. The person will improve by integrating the experience, but at their own pace, not ours.

      Absolute and indoctrinating messages

      It is easy to recognize many of these messages. They are absolute, polarized, they speak in terms of all or nothing, Trying to describe reality in statements carved in stone, without admitting shades or shades of gray.

      The wording of the imperative is repeated a lot, as if it were an order, and the dangerous “should” and “must”, turning simple opinions into absolute mandates, such as: “one must be strong” .

      This ideology is very much associated with values ​​such as freedom, but it usually doesn’t leave much room for choice.

      Don’t smile if you don’t want to

      Nothing is black and white. Of course, it is important to put optimism in our lives to move forward, to have hope, to believe in ourselves and in our skills and resources.

      Equally important is to recognize that we are not omnipotentA lot of things will cost us more or less, sometimes the smartest option will be to pull out on time and try again next time with a better strategy, or even reject an overly ambitious idea altogether.

      There is nothing wrong with feeling sad, angry, or scared sometimes. In some circumstances, it is simply the most adaptive and the healthiest.

      There are many times when these emotions can save our lives when expressed in the right way. (As they have been doing for thousands of years, since the first Homo sapiens crossed the plains).

      There are worlds between these basic, natural emotions and depressive, anxiety, or pathological anger disorder.

      Psychologist in Valencia or online therapy

      I offer psychotherapy services in my practice in Valencia, as well as online therapy sessions. You can see my contact details on this page.

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