What is Toxic Positivity?

“Good Vibes Only” or “Just Stay Positive”.

There’s nothing worse than hearing these when you’re having a really bad day, because realistically how are the “vibes” helping you?

There is such a thing of too much positivity or Toxic Positivity.

What does Toxic Positivity mean exactly?

According to The Psychology Group of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the concept of “Toxic Positivity” is:

“the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations. The process of toxic positivity results in the denial, minimization and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.”

Remember when all the celebrities sang Imagine during the height of the pandemic like it was going to have a big impact on those truly affected?

Yeah, it’s a little something like that. Don’t get me wrong, positivity is a good thing and is needed to live a balanced life, but “too much of a good thing” applies here.

Several studies have revealed that suppressing uncomfortable emotions can lead to increased anxiety, depression, and worsening mental health overall.

Carolyn Karoll, a psychotherapist in Baltimore, Maryland explains the negative effects of toxic positivity by saying, “Judging yourself for feeling pain, sadness, jealousy –which are part of the human experience and are transient emotions– leads to what are referred to as secondary emotions, such as shame, that are much more intense and maladaptive.”

Toxic Positivity is just one way of thinking. When it comes to our attitudes and outlooks on life there’s an entire spectrum that ranges from extreme positivity to extreme negativity.

Different people may fall at different points along this spectrum, and their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors may reflect their position on this continuum.

Optimists and Pessimists are on opposite ends on the spectrum, while Realists and Nihilists fall somewhere in the middle.


Whether they are dealing with something good or bad, Optimists always strive to see the most positive outcomes, usually known as the “glass half full” type of people.

If you fall into this category, and are always in a good mood, congratulations. Positive thinking can be a great trait to have, but again there can be too much of a good thing.

Optimists consistently recognize how much control they have in a situation and expect a good outcome when they take steps to act on it.

This can set you up for even further disappointment if you don’t get the desired results. It’s important to acknowledge the negativity in your life, and actually healthy to allow your body to feel all the feelings.


A pessimist will often downplay the positives in a situation while heightening their focus on the negative, or the “glass half empty” folks.

Those with more pessimistic outlooks tend to have less social support, lower resilience, a reduced ability to cope with stress, and a greater susceptibility for depression and anxiety disorders.

As corny as it sounds our lives are full of reasons to feel thankful.

Sometimes we need to remember to notice them.

Practicing gratitude daily is an easy way to have a more positive outlook which studies have shown that feeling thankful can improve sleep, mood and immunity.

Gratitude can also decrease depression, anxiety, difficulties with chronic pain and risk of disease.


Nihilists reject the value and meaning society places on people, objects, and life.

While nihilism is often discussed in terms of extreme skepticism and pessimism, for most of the 20th century it has been associated with the belief that life is meaningless, and more of a carefree way of living.

Without the constant anxiety of how every little decision you make impacts your future, can be liberating. But in reality, these decisions do have consequences in the now.

The choices you make can affect others who might not feel as “carefree“, so it’s important to respect them and be considerate of how you might impact them.


Realists fall in the middle and are a mix of both optimists and pessimists. They don’t deny that there is good in this world, but they also acknowledge that there is bad in it too.

What a perfect mix right? While there is power in balance, realists often become very matter-of-fact.

It often gets people stuck in the cycle of observation and reaction mode, where they are observing the circumstances of their lives (how they are in reality) and reacting to them accordingly (by default).

This can make every day a little lackluster, without the inspiration of chasing dreams or making change.

A solution for this type of attitude would be to take a chance without overthinking the outcome of good or bad.

Dare to dream a little bigger than you think possible.

In Closing

These are short snapshots of these categories, I can dive into them more and how they interact later.

There can always be too much of a good thing, i.e. toxic positivity, so it’s important to remember not everyone feels the same way or comes from the same background.

Being able to empathize and better understand the root of why something is causing pain rather than suppressing it can make all the difference.

Handing out “good vibes” is just a band-aid over a bullet wound, eventually, the suppressed feelings will bleed out and be required to be felt whether you’re prepared for it or not.