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What Is ‘Toxic Positivity’ And Why The ‘Good Vibes Only’ Mantra Is Unhelpful

Positive thinking is often encouraged and ‘sold’ as a way to ‘control our attitude when we can’t control our circumstances’ according to psychotherapist and author, Whitney Goodman.

But is it really that simple and for greater good?

The pressure to be grateful no matter what circumstances we are in has been particularly rife in recent years during the pandemic.

American psychotherapist Whitney Goodman noticed the resurgence of the “good vibes only” culture during the pandemic. 

Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald she discussed “on social media especially during the pandemic, I saw a real rise in this positive thinking discourse again,” explains Goodman, from her home in Florida. “It was coming from everywhere… government, religion, influencers – we’re seeing it from all sides – everyone wanted us to be positive, so there was no mess or complaining”.

This pressure to be grateful regardless of what is going on for us has become, Goodman argues, the latest form of “toxic positivity”.

“If you’re complaining about something it’s almost shameful because ‘you have things to be grateful for’,” said Goodman. “Especially during the pandemic, it was ‘well, other people have it worse than you, so you need to be quiet and not be upset’.”

She is quick to clarify that there is a clear need to distinguish between healthy positivity and toxic positivity. ‘Healthy positivity’ makes space for both reality, and hope. Whereas toxic positivity demands happiness, and completely denies other emotions.

“It forces us to suppress emotions, which can be destructive for our physical and mental health,” she said.

So, are people purposefully trying to disregard our feelings when they push for a positive outlook? Goodman does not think so.

She suspects it comes from a good place, with many people often feeling helpless at times if a friend or loved one is dealing with ‘painful feelings’ or a difficult circumstance. 

She says we therefore are quick “to offer an uplifting platitude, as it eases our discomfort and makes us feel like we’re helping to cheer them up when we feel helpless”.

“We often rush into positivity because we genuinely want people to feel better.”

However, despite good intentions we often make the person feel silenced and ashamed of their feelings. Instead, Goodman states it’s best to simply listen - and show empathy to their emotions, asking questions rather than offering a positive outlook.