Vibes and Toxic Positivity

Ever felt someone coming on with a strong vibe you deemed as negative? Or worse still, positive? Some have a mantra “Good vibes only!” and it does turn out that one can be ‘too positive’.

Going by the literal meaning of vibe, this is a person’s emotional state or the atmosphere of a place as communicated to and felt by others. Although the definition of vibe is seen as a subjective concept, many agree that vibe is an energy radiated or emitted to those around for which some may be seen as draining while others are uplifting. The “draining” vibe is then referred to as negative while the “uplifting” is positive. This perception for individuals is usually borne out of factors that range from strong instincts to picking up facial expressions subconsciously.

Communication is central to human interaction and since human beings are social beings, we cannot do without using every means to adequately understand what is being communicated. Hence leaning on the help of instincts to aid communication. While it is great to have a great disposition to life, it’s also possible to overdose on this. This is to say that there could be a detriment to the “positive vibes” trend, how its overuse causes harm and leads to suffering that it aims to counter. This detrimental factor is referred to as toxic positivity.  It is said that too much of anything is bad, and in this case the same applies.

When positivity is used to mask true human experience, it becomes toxic. By denying and disallowing the existence of certain feelings, people fall into a state of denial and repressed emotions. No human is perfect, in fact many (if not all) are flawed. We as humans experience a wide range of emotions such as getting jealous, angry, resentful, and greedy. Life can just be terrible sometimes. Therefore by pretending that we have “positive vibes all day,” we deny the validity of a genuine human experience.

Toxic positivity is described as when an individual portrays himself as perfect, incredibly happy even when he isn’t, and consistently considering the bright side while ignoring real problems and issues in the course. With this, everyone inserts themselves in the bubble of a fictional happy and positive place. This happens either in person or on social media, causing a disconnection between reality and fiction/normality hence making vulnerability difficult. We must know that vulnerability does not translate to weakness. It is truly great to have a positive outlook in life so it is okay to have a healthy amount of positivity. In fact, it is good for our overall health, however it becomes a problem when it is excessive or feigned. In essence, toxic positivity is defined as the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations. This process of toxic positivity leads to denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.

Signs of Toxic Positivity

Below are some common expressions and experiences of toxic positivity to help you recognize how it shows up in everyday life.

  1. Hiding/Masking your true feelings
  2. Trying to “just get on with it” by stuffing/dismissing an emotion(s)
  3. Feeling guilty for feeling what you feel
  4. Minimizing other people’s experiences with “feel good” quotes or statements
  5. Trying to give someone perspective (e.g., “it could be worse”) instead of validating their emotional experience
  6. Shaming or chastising others for expressing frustration or anything other than positivity
  7. Brushing off things that are bothering you with a “It is what it is

Downturns of Toxic Positivity

  1. Shame: Pushing a positive outlook on pain forcefully encourages a person to be quiet about their struggles. Shame is crippling to the human spirit and one of the most uncomfortable feelings we can experience. Most people do not want to be seen as bad so they would rather pretend like everything is going great.
  2. Suppressed emotions: Studies in psychology indicate that withholding feelings leads to intense stress on the body and increase in distressing thoughts and feelings. Suppressing emotions may appear to be cool and calm but on the inside stress is erupting. Therefore expressing a broad range of emotions, having words to describe how we feel, and facial expressions to indicate them help us regulate our stress response. Acknowledging the reality of our emotions by expressing them helps keep us sane, healthy and relieves tension.
  3. Isolation and other relational problems: In denying our true feelings and emotions, we begin to live ‘inauthentically’ with ourselves and with the world. We lose connection with ourselves, making it difficult for others to connect and relate to us. We might look unbreakable from the outside, but on the inside we’re just scared little teddy bears longing for a hug.

Staying healthy requires seeing oneself truly for who one is, so whatever “vibe” you feel at any time it is a great idea to express it in truth. It might be difficult to align positivity and reality but it is important to be authentic with emotions.

One must be able to identify the social circles where to keep positivity on, and the inner circle to keep authenticity with. It might take some people time to open up, and that is absolutely fine. Moreover, we must know how to appropriately respond to people’s grief and comfort them without exuding toxic positivity.

Words such as ‘this must be difficult to adjust to’ instead of saying ‘well, you will get over it’’ can impact us significantly.

We should simply acknowledge the myriad of feelings and emotions we carry and importantly, be kind to yourself.


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