When "Just Be Positive" Goes Too Far

If you haven’t heard of the concept of toxic positivity or chronic positivity, maybe you’ve picked up on what it is without knowing it even has a name.

When people are toxically positive or chronically positive about a situation, they tend to downplay harsh realities and erase the need for change. They believe that "good vibes" are enough — to heal systemic poverty, racism, or even disease.

Examples range from the annoying but innocuous to the problematic: 

  • Stay positive and anything is possible!
  • Good vibes will make your pain go away!
  • Love is all you need!
  • If you just think positive, you won't suffer so much.
  • Don’t think about the downsides, just focus on the positive

I've personally heard people say the following — to me or to my friends:

  • I don’t see color; everyone is equal (this “positive perspective” denies racism and the fact that not seeing color is part of the problem).
  • “You could have cancer, so be happy you’re not dead!" (this perspective parades around as gratitude but really is just invalidating).
  • "Everything happens for a reason; trust the process!” (This is one way of silencing someone’s concerns and turning a real-life problem into a mystical, predestined happening).

The problem with chronic positivity is that it lives in a squeaky clean, unrealistic dream bubble. On planet earth, the marginalized, the poor, the oppressed, and families struggling to get by can't afford to rely on happy thoughts as a savior. If we don't get honest about why things make us miserable, nothing gets fixed. Nothing is fought for.

Chronic positivity allows no room for nuance. It allows no room for the discussion of darkness, an inevitable part of life. And without a shadow — without the dark, painful, suffering that comes along with having a disease or dealing with a hardship — we can't see it for what it is, which means we can't try and fix it.

When we bury everything under the rug, assuming it's "part of the plan" or we just have to "keep on smiling," we tell ourselves that we don’t trust our own feelings. We place blame on ourselves if our circumstances don't miraculously change. And we tell other people that the fullness of the human experience isn’t good enough, is blighted or broken or sullied.

Chronic positivity allows very little space, if none, to meditate on what hurts; what's so wrong with going deep and looking the hardship in the face? If we deny ourselves the truth, this causes a shame spiral. We teach ourselves that anything other than happiness is shameful. And that's just not true.

Keeping perspective and finding the good in painful circumstances is not the same as chronic positivity

Knowing when to find perspective and find gratitude and joy is key. Civilizations and societies and groups of people have found the beauty in hardship but it wasn't with the help empty mantras like, "love and light" or "stay positive!"

I believe that resilience and acknowledgment of pain and hardship works in tandem with perspective and gratitude. When I think of my chronic illness, I think of it as a whole: It sucks. I'm in pain. I'm mad. This isn't fair. I need help. I'm grieving. I'm strong. I'm resilient. I'm empathic. I'm taking action.

It is perfectly OK to acknowledge, explore, honor, and talk about the pain, grief, loss, confusion, frustration, and agony of living with a chronic illness. Pain expressed can be a shared language — one that unites and heals. To me, this leads to far more positivity than “getting on with it” and preaching "good vibes only."

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy. We never sell or share your email address.

More on this topic

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The AnkylosingSpondylitis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

or create an account to comment.
poll graphic

Community Poll

How much about your AS do you share with others?