Source | www.fastcompany.com | LAURA GALLAHER
Raise your hand if you have ever heard “Well at least . . .;” “It could be worse;” “Look on the bright side;” or other expressions that are offered in response to real negative emotions. You’ve likely been on the giving or receiving end of phrases such as these, which means you’ve experienced what is called toxic positivity.
While it is well-intentioned, toxic positivity suppresses emotions. That can lead to stronger negative emotions, such as anxiety and depression, which can also manifest as physical illness. Experiences of toxic positivity are not limited to well-meaning friends and family. It’s also increasingly taking hold in the workplace as leaders lean into optimism in the face of massive COVID-19 economic and social impacts.
The phrase toxic positivity means only focusing on positive things while ignoring, suppressing, or avoiding anything that may trigger negative emotions. This invalidation of real feelings of fear, anxiety, and sadness can take a toll on mental health. Accepting emotions, on the other hand, has the opposite effect. A 2018 study found that accepting negative emotions and thoughts without judging them (a key piece of the practice of self-acceptance) is linked with greater psychological health.
When toxic positivity occurs in the workplace, it is often triggered by fear of negative energy permeating the team. It happens when people in an organization are discouraged from saying what they are really thinking and feeling. The result is that people start to withhold a lot of their own thoughts and feelings, creating high levels of emotional labor (projecting one set of emotions while actually feeling others). The first casualty of this type of environment is trust.
Humans intuitively know if there is a disconnect between what someone is saying and what they are actually feeling. While you don’t always know exactly what is going on, your built-in radar signals that something is off. When this happens, you come to the conclusion that you can’t quite trust what this person is saying to you at that moment.