Too much positivity is toxic, psychologists say

Excessive positivity during times of emotional hardship is not only unhelpful, but downright toxic, psychology experts told The Washington Post.

Many Americans have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread social unrest with increasingly reassuring attitudes.

While maintaining a positive mindset can be a helpful coping mechanism, “toxic positivity” rests on the misconception that the best or only way to cope with difficult situations is to not dwell on the negatives, according to Natalie Dattilo, PhD, a clinical health psychologist at Boston-based Brigham and Women’s Hospital. 

She equated toxic positivity to someone shoving “ice cream into somebody’s face when they don’t feel like having ice cream.”

“That’s not really going to make them feel better,” Dr. Dattilo told The Post. 

One of the most common phrases associated with toxic positivity is “It will be fine,” which shuts down the notion that there is a problem before it can be addressed, said Stephanie Preston, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. 

Experts warn that this type of toxic positivity could exacerbate already rising levels of anxiety, depression and other mental health issues among Americans. Instead, people should normalize whatever they are experiencing, without having any expectations that they should feel better than they do,  Dr. Dattilo said. 

“Recognize that how you feel is valid, no matter what,” she told The Post, adding “It’s OK not to be OK.”

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