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What is ‘toxic positivity’ and how do you handle it?

Acknowledge and express your emotions instead of pushing them away

Good vibes only. Stay positive. Be grand Toxic positivity is the belief that no matter how difficult the situation, we should stay positive. Whether it's in the form of a social media meme, or the friend who always tries to jolly us out of our feelings, identifying toxic positivity is the first step to dealing with it.

Normalise the 'meh' Toxic positivity is when we dismiss or suppress any uncomfortable emotions, says Linda Breathnach, member of the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and founder of . "On social media there is this mixed message. 'It's ok not to be ok' is a line used a lot, but it is still kind of put out there that it's other people who are not ok. It's not normalised for everybody not to be ok."

Rainbows. Puppies. Kittens "Sometimes we hear: 'You shouldn't think that way, of course you are going to be fine'. We might hear that as: 'You shouldn't feel that way'. We can feel dismissed," says Breathnach. "Even trying to cheer someone up implies there is something wrong with them for finding it hard."

Toxic positivity, moi? When it comes to toxic positivity, we can be our own worst enemies. "We talk to ourselves much more harshly than anyone else. Be your own best friend," Breathnach advises. "With clients, sometimes when they realise they are beating themselves up, they start beating themselves up for beating themselves up. Just noticing that we do it, and noticing how we respond to noticing it, is a big step."


Move it one step further and talk to yourself as you would a friend. “Love your neighbour as yourself? I would turn it around and love yourself as your neighbour,” she says.

Get comfortable with uncomfortable To fend off toxic positivity, honour uncomfortable feelings by expressing them. "Don't suppress or dismiss them in yourself or somebody else," says Breathnach. "Acknowledge and express your feelings, journal or talk to somebody who is emotionally supportive, someone who can sit with you and say, 'I know, yes. It's tough'. Go for a walk but instead of listening to a podcast and zoning out, pound the pavements and give yourself space to acknowledge and honour your feelings."

Keep perspective As awful as things may feel now, know that feelings aren't permanent. "Thoughts can come from feelings or they can lead to feelings, but thoughts can be wrong. They can be do-lally and they can spiral because our thoughts can be inaccurate," she says. "But our feelings are always valid. They are not facts. They are not permanent, but they are always valid. If we can really separate thoughts and feelings and challenge the thoughts but validate the feelings."

Hey, look at this lovely sunset! If a friend or family member always tries to Ted Talk you out of your feelings, have compassion. "It's not intentional if they dismiss your uncomfortable emotions, try to distract or look on the positive," says Breathnach. "They might dismiss your feelings because they are not comfortable themselves. It doesn't mean they think you are wrong to feel what you are feeling. It's just too close to the bone for them."

PJ day Everest climbers, wild swimmers, triathletes – if your social media feed is swamped by the seeming positivity of others, know that your way is okay.

“If you want to stay in your jammies, you should have some compassion for yourself and allow yourself to rest and recover,” says Breathnach. “Normally, we want to run away from our feelings and push them away. But it’s about sitting with our feelings, trusting them and allowing them. You can be a positive person, you can be positive about embracing uncomfortable emotions as well.”