Toxic Positivity: What It Means, Examples, and Alternative Responses

While optimism is generally considered healthy, an extreme version of it called toxic positivity can result in trauma and unhealthy coping mechanisms. This article examines this concept and the best ways to address it.

What Is Toxic Positivity?

Eric Engle, Psy.D, a psychologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, said toxic positivity is an intense or enduring pressure to be happy and maintain a positive outlook, no matter how difficult or troubling the circumstances.

He also said positivity can become toxic when it leads to avoiding, suppressing, minimizing, or rejecting negative emotions we can experience when coping with adversity or challenging life events. Dr. Engle said you can distinguish toxic positivity from optimism, helpful coping, and gratitude because it makes you feel worse about an already challenging life circumstance.

How Does Toxic Positivity Affect Mental Health?

Jenn Kennedy, Ph.D., a licensed marriage and family therapist, said a person receiving toxic positivity might feel like there isn’t being acknowledged, which can be frustrating or confusing. Dr. Engle also said toxic positivity can affect the individual in the following ways:

● Feeling like one’s emotional experience is invalid.
● Internalized self-stigma or blame around negative emotions
● A false sense of control over life’s difficult situations
● Limited learning and understanding

The Negative Impacts of Practicing Toxic Positivity

David Tzall, Psy.D, a licensed psychologist in New York City, said people practicing toxic positivity may feel a constant pressure to maintain a cheerful facade, leading to anxiety and emotional burnout.

Examples of Toxic Positivity

Toxic positivity can manifest in multiple ways, but Dr. Engle highlights the following popular examples:

● “It was for the best”
● “Things happen for a reason”
● “You’ll get through it”

Dr. Engle also said these statements can limit the benefits of learning and working through painful emotions and adverse circumstances.

How To Respond to Toxic Positivity

A person practicing toxic positivity with you may have genuine intentions. However, you can tell them you’re not yet in a place to receive that kind of feedback. To do this, Dr. Engle said you should recognize the helpful intention and then provide additional feedback on what would be more helpful for you to hear.

Dr. Tzall said you should consider setting boundaries if the person continues to meet your negative emotions with positive masculinity. He also said getting support from friends and professionals who can provide the empathy you need would be helpful.


Toxic positivity can make you feel inadequate and unheard. You can avoid this by teaching the individual practicing it how you want to be supported. If the individual doesn’t stop, you need to set clear boundaries.

If the toxic positivity is self-inflicted, you need to change your mindset by being kinder to yourself and expressing your emotions.