feel all your emotions to avoid the toxic positivity trap

How positivity can sometimes hurt your mental health

We’ve all been there. Things aren’t going as you planned. You’ve made a mistake or forgotten to do something. You’re exhausted with our new world full of pandemic rules. Or you’re worried about the future.

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You may feel overwhelmed, anxious, sad, frustrated, irritated, angry or even hopeless. As human beings, we tend to push away these painful emotions and focus on something else to make ourselves feel better. We tell ourselves to focus on the “bright side” or think only positive thoughts.

When we focus only on positive emotions and ignore painful ones, we get caught in what’s called the “toxic positivity trap.”

By putting pressure on ourselves to feel happy all the time – which is not realistic – we are likely to view our painful emotions as signs that we have somehow failed. These feelings of failure can cause us to experience more unhappiness, which can contribute to emotional as well as physical distress.

Avoid the toxic positivity trap

While being positive and optimistic can be helpful at times, it’s actually healthier to allow yourself to feel your entire range of emotions – positive, painful, and everything in between.

When you accept your painful emotions, it defuses them and takes away their power over you. As you become more accepting of all your emotions, you can experience improved mental and physical health.

Here are some ways to avoid the toxic positivity trap:

  • Remember that EVERYONE feels painful emotions at times – it’s OK to have a tough day.
  • Know that feeling painful emotions is part of being human – being unhappy is part of life.
  • Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come up, even the painful ones.
  • Acknowledge that the painful emotions you’re experiencing are difficult.
  • Be kind to yourself and avoid telling yourself that you’re weak because of your painful emotions.
  • Take a self-compassion break.
  • If you become overwhelmed when you feel painful emotions, give yourself permission to take a break and do something to nurture yourself.
  • Remind yourself that your painful emotions are not permanent and will change (sometimes in a matter of minutes).
  • Use journaling to explore all of your emotions and release them in writing.
  • Reach out to people you trust and share your struggles – you might be surprised that they have been experiencing similar painful emotions!

Last Updated: October 2, 2020

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About Author: Vicki Kamhi

Vicki Kamhi is a nationally certified Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) with over 13 years of counseling experience. She currently serves as the counselor for the Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing and is a member of the OSF Resiliency Workgroup.

Vicki’s passion is to share information and practices that support nursing students and Mission Partners as they discover their own path leading to a life full of wellness, personal growth, joy, and meaning.

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Categories: Mental Health