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Can Positivity Be Toxic? How Can You Avoid Toxic Positivity?

My response to the online controversy about toxic positivity.
A guy looking confused. | Graphic made by author with Canva AI.

Can positivity be toxic? If so, how can you avoid toxic positivity? People love to debate this topic on social media.

On the one side, some believe that no amount of positivity could ever be harmful. On the other side, many believe the constant push to be positive is more harmful than being negative.

Which one is right?

I don’t know that there’s a definitive answer, but after a lot of thinking, I came to the following conclusions.

Positivity won’t cure you

Some think that positivity is toxic because of the false belief that being positive will cure everything. But it won’t.

The belief that simply trying to be happier or focusing on good things will cure a mental illness is absurd. It’s like trying to fix a broken arm with happy thoughts. Not going to work.

If that’s your definition of positivity, then it truly is toxic. There’s no amount of positivity that will ever take away your bipolar disorder. If this is the definition some have in mind, it’s no wonder they think pursuing a positive mindset is harmful.

But is it really?

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Positivity should be about focus

The goal of 30 Days of Positivity Email Course and The Speaking Bipolar Positivity Club is to promote positive positivity. What is positive positivity? It’s all about focus.

Beneficial positivity teaches you to change the things that you focus on. It’s about altering your view to better options.

Instead of being consumed by weaknesses, you learn to focus on your strengths.

Instead of obsessing over the things you don’t have, you are grateful for all the things you own.

This change in focus also won’t cure you, but it will improve the quality of your life.

Why can I say that? Because I’ve seen its effect on me and hundreds of other people.

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Changing one word

There was a time where changing one word in my life changed everything.

In the first years following my bipolar diagnosis, I became known as the “Bipolar Guy.” Even people who didn’t know my name knew I had bipolar disorder.

It was beyond frustrating. I felt like I was walking around with the label tattooed on my forehead in giant red letters.

Adding to the frustration was the fact that whenever people asked me how I was, I always said, “Fine.” However, my mother took a certain twisted pleasure in going around behind me and telling everyone that fine did not really mean fine.

I decided the best way to thwart her efforts to expose my struggles was to change the word I used. Instead of fine, I started telling everyone I was good.

It wasn’t true, but it stopped people from tilting their heads and looking at me sideways. Most people never thought I was lying to them.

A funny thing happened. Changing that one word changed the way I felt about myself. My mental illness wasn’t any better, but by choosing to tell people I was good, I was feeling a little better.

A light bulb went off in my head, and I realized that words and focus can change a lot. That was the start of my pursuit of positivity.

Watching others grow

In the years since, I’ve learned that the things I focus on make all the difference. I now keep a gratitude jar to remind me of the reasons I have to be grateful. I write in my journal reasons for gratitude every day.

When I make a terrible mistake, and I still make many, I look for the lesson I learned from that blunder. When a relationship ends, I look for the lessons I learned from that finale as well.

It’s not always easy to find something positive in every situation, but there is usually at least one thing you can learn. And a lesson learned will teach you to be a better person.

So, how can you avoid toxic positivity? By remembering beneficial positivity is all about trying to improve your mindset. The more you can focus on the good things in life, the more wonderful things you’ll see. The more gratitude you express for the things you have, the more ways you’ll see that you’re already blessed.

I teach this positivity in my Club, and I see the results in the responses I get from my members.

A guy looking confused. | Graphic made by author with Canva AI.

What if positivity still feels toxic?

Will there be times when positivity feels toxic? How can you avoid toxic positivity? If you’re battling a mental illness like bipolar disorder, absolutely. However, as you know with many things, just because bipolar makes you feel something doesn’t mean it’s true.

If pursuing positivity feels toxic to you right now, step away from it for a few days or weeks. Let yourself work through the negative emotions in your mind and heart and come back later.

Positivity shouldn’t be an angry teacher swatting you with a ruler. It should be a helpful guide directing you to the sunny side of the street. If it feels too burdensome today, try again tomorrow.

Can positivity be toxic? You bet, if you tie that positivity to the false belief that just by being positive, you’re going to cure your mental illness. It will never do that.

But if you use positivity to improve the quality of your life, it will never let you down.

To recap, how can you avoid toxic positivity?

  • Understand positivity is not a cure
  • Pay attention to your focus
  • Take breaks as needed

Positivity is not toxic, but it can feel that way when misused. Use your power for good to help you and others.

Until next time, keep fighting.

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4 Comments

  1. The toxic positivity is the only positivity anyone has ever forced on me and the only positivity ive ever known. As if I could just choose to be happy and then my bipolar magically disappears. It was so disheartening having your entire family thinking that. That it was just a personality flaw that I couldn’t be positive (read: cured).
    Positive to a lot of people means not having bipolar at all. “Get therapy” also not going to cure me, and I literally do all the therapy and already am in active therapy.
    I do need to redefine what positivity means to me, so thanks for this blog post. It has been kind of a toxic trait of mine to now be allergic to all types of positivity.
    So thanks for this blog post. I need to change that.

    1. I’m so sorry positivity was forced on you. It should always be a choice, a matter of focus, never a weapon. Maybe instead of reframing what positivity means to you, you could just concentrate on where you focus your attention.

      Thank you so much for sharing your story here. Keep fighting!

  2. Great post, Scott. I don’t know if you can technically “cure” any mental disorder (I’ve tried with alcoholism, and the cure isn’t a cure, it’s a temporary reprieve based on a daily choice to do certain things that give me a chance at success. I think that’s the best we get, brother. I really dig where you come from.

    1. No, I agree that right now there does not seem to be any cure for mental illness, but I have to believe at some point there will be one. Thank you for reading and taking a moment to leave a comment. Keep fighting.

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