Toxic Positivity: Pivot from the Dark Side of “Good Vibes Only”

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What is toxic positivity? How does toxic positivity hurt you and your relationships? In this episode of Make it Mentionable, I break down toxic positivity and give 3 steps for breaking it’s destructive cycle in conversations and relationships. Plus, whether you default to toxic positivity when you’re talking to yourself or someone else, I’ve got phrases you can pivot to. I’m rooting for your full range of expression. 💋🎙

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Alyssa Patmos 0:04

This is Make It Mentionable.

I’m Alyssa Patmos and this is the show about being human in a world that encourages us to be robots.

I invite you to join me as we journey through the mess, the magic and the mania in between.

Because what we can talk about, we can manage.

This honest conversation extravaganza includes free flowing conversations and high doses of vulnerability to remind you that you aren’t alone.

No topic is off limits, and episodes are designed to leave you smarter, aka more self aware than when you came.

I am so glad you’re here.

Alyssa Patmos 0:50
Hello, hello, I have three questions for you. So:

Have you ever felt guilty for being sad or angry?

Have you ever slapped on a smile to make it seem like everything was okay?

And have you ever gotten uncomfortable when people are sad, angry or depressed?

If so, you’re not alone.

These are some of the telltale signs of the dark side of positivity.

And generally, there’s a buzzword right now around this which is toxic positivity.

And toxic positivity is the overgeneralization of a happy and optimistic state.

Across all situations, like feeling like you have to be happy all the time.

It’s definitely highlighted in phrases like ‘everything happens for a reason’, or ‘good vibes only’ which it seems like we see across Instagram all day long.

But when phrases like ‘everything happens for a reason’, is used to shut down feeling sad or angry, or any other natural human emotion, it can do more harm than good.

To have an authentic emotional experience, we have to allow ourselves to not be happy all the time. To be sad to grieve to be angry at times.

To think that happiness 100% of the time is the goal is deeply, deeply, deeply misguided.

And it’s also completely exhausting.

There’s this culture of toxic positivity, where it seems as if we must be happy all the time, like that’s the price. That’s the price.

But it sets us up to fail because it’s not possible.

A much more realistic goal is to focus on the bounce back.

And I’ve talked about this before, but how quickly are we able to bounce back from overwhelm overwhelming or intense emotions? When we’re down? Do we spiral downward for days? Or can we bring ourselves back to a hopeful state within a few minutes or hours? When we’re feeling joy? Do we need to cling to that peak? Or do we know that even if it falls, it will return?

If we deny, dismiss, suppress, mask or stifle our emotions, or the emotions of others, we lengthen the time it takes to bounce back.

And we increase the chances of disconnecting from ourselves or isolating ourselves and we run the risk of damaging our relationships.

‘Good Vibes Only’ is not all that helpful of a phrase. To avoid any bad vibes means we’re constantly pushing emotions or people away.

Instead of learning how to deal with events or people that may not always leave us feeling our best, it encourages avoidance and avoidance is usually at odds with accepting and allowing. And accepting and allowing are two of the keys to moving through our emotions.

Because the opposite of of denying them or suppressing them is allowing them to move through us.

Alyssa Patmos 4:23
When we bottle up our emotions, it’s like we turn into seltzer water. And all of you know I’m a huge fan of spindrift, so I love some seltzer water, but it doesn’t mean I want to be seltzer water.

What I mean by that is when we bottle up our emotions, if we get the teeniest bit shaken up, we’re going to explode.

It’s like if you put a spindrift in your bag and you’re walking around with it for hours, and then you take it. You pull it out once you get to the park and you open it and you forgot that it’s been in your bag and it just explodes everywhere because it’s been shaken up gently for four hours.

We don’t want to be seltzer. Instead, we want to be still water.

Still water can be shaken without exploding.

It can get rough here and there it can have waves and be swirled around. But it returns to a natural calm state without exploding or needing event to escape.

So not to mention, the internal pressure of bottling things up is deeply unsettling and stressful to our bodies. Feeling like an internal pressure cooker has an impact on our functional or physical functioning as well.

Allowing ourselves our humanity is critical. We’re not robots, allow yourself your humanity.

You’re not a robot, you’re human, you’re entitled to take up space. And proactively making room for emotions usually leads to better conversations, rather than them forcefully coming out after you’ve turned into this like metaphorical soda water.

Masking emotions to make it seem like you have it all together isn’t doing anyone any favors over the long term. It’s a breeding ground for resentment in relationships.

Dismissing your emotions by saying things like ‘I’m fine, I’m not angry,’ when you are indeed quite angry, is denying your humanity and it’s putting impossible standards on yourself.

Similarly, if you dismiss other people’s emotions, by not allowing them to be upset, it’s another dark side of positivity, it’s another dark side of positivity.

And it can be deeply, deeply, deeply damaging.

People want to be seen and heard and loved.

And we have to allow and afford them the full human experience as well.

Geoff has a favorite saying, which is ‘What if it’s a gift?’ And many times, it’s a great reframe.

Like it can help us see that there might be hidden gifts and circumstances. And so we do say it to each other. I like it a lot better than something like ‘everything happens for a reason’, because it poses a question.

But I will say if he says that, in lieu of allowing me to have any sort of negative emotion first, it’s not as helpful. It feels like I instantly have to transcend the part that I’m at and get to like, ‘Okay, what’s the gift in it?’ which is, is not fully allowing the emotion.

So denying our emotions is destructive.

On the flip side, I can’t have this conversation without also talking about over identification of emotions, because over identifying with our emotions is also deeply destructive.

There’s a spectrum.

And we have denial on one side, and suppression. And then on the other side, we have over-identification, where we’re feeling angry and making up all of the stories about it and putting blame on everyone else. And just going so intensely into that emotion.

Mindful allowance is what sits in the middle.

Mindful allowance is where we’re able to allow an emotion without identifying with every thought that comes with the emotion.

We have this tendency, when we’re triggered or upset, to feel sensations in our bodies, recognize that emotion, and then instantly make up a story as to why that’s happening or blame someone for our current state to avoid toxic positivity, you can follow these three ways.

  1. Acknowledge.
  2. Allow.
  3. Ask.

Acknowledge that feelings other than positivity and happiness exist and that they’re part of the natural human experience.

Allow them to show up. There’s no sense trying to control the uncontrollable. I’m sure you have learned this many times in life that we we we tend to try to control things that are outside of our control. And that’s a futile effort.

So allowing them to show up and ask: ask questions. Ask yourself questions about your beliefs in the moment, about what triggered you, about what the situation could mean?

Alyssa Patmos 9:25
If you’re talking to someone else, ask what they need.

Or if you feel like you’re seeing something about a situation that the other person isn’t.

Ask a question that can help them see more possibility not just require positivity from them.

For example, that can be like ‘What about this situation feels familiar to you?’ or ‘What do you need?’ And in some cases, you can adopt Geoff’s ‘What if it’s a gift?’ So because I always love to incorporate the very practical Little pivots you can start making.

Here’s some phrases you can pivot to that’ll help you Acknowledge, Allow and Ask. And I promise you, when you start doing this more, you’ll see your relationships start to transform.

Because we’re so used to feeling like we have to be different than we are in the moment, or feeling like we have to be happy all the time.

And when we afford ourselves, or afford someone else, to get up – not have to do that – it is incredibly powerful.

So phrases you can pivot to, we’re going to start with if you’re talking to yourself, because you are your own best support system, when things come up, or when there is emotional flood. So when you’re talking to yourself:

  1. Instead of saying, ‘grin, and bear it’, which many of you might have heard for years, you can say, ‘I’m allowed to experience my emotions.’
  2. Instead of saying to yourself, ‘everything happens for a reason.’ What if you said, ‘I handle curveballs with self-compassion.’
  3. Instead of ‘just smile’, which is one I’m very familiar with, ‘I allow myself to experience this emotion. And doing so will lead to me smiling sooner.’ I still love to be a smiley person. But I can’t expect myself to be that all the time. And so when I noticed this, and I allow myself to experience whatever emotions coming up, I know that it will lead me to smiling sooner, again, which encourages me to let the emotion come through me.
  4. ‘It could be worse’, that is a very common one that is popular in our society. You can pivot to ‘This isn’t what I expected.’ And see what opens up from there.
  5. Or instead of ‘good vibes only’, which I feel like is in so many neon signs right now. It could be ‘I’m here for the full range of human expression.’

So those are some pivots when you’re talking to yourself.

But what about when you’re talking to someone else, because that can be even more challenging at times?

  1. So rather than saying ‘grin and bear it’ to someone else, you could say, ‘I’m here for you, even when you’re struggling.’
  2. And instead of saying ‘everything happens for a reason’. You could say ‘It’s hard when things don’t go as planned. What do you need?’
  3. Instead of saying, ‘If I can do it, so can you.’ And let me just say, I know that all of these are coming from a good place. But it doesn’t mean that they’re always received in that way, or that it’s helpful or that it encourages people being something other than positive, being able to be their full human self, with flaws with quirks with big emotions that we don’t always know how to handle or that we can’t immediately transcend. So instead of ‘If I can do it, so can you.’ You could say ‘Everyone has their own process, what would help you?’
  4. Instead of saying ‘it could be worse’, you could say, ‘Life throws curveballs, and I think you’re doing a great job.’
  5. And instead of this one, ‘don’t worry’, which I feel like it’s just code for ‘okay, I’m telling you to actually worry more.’ Instead of ‘don’t worry’ if you actually want someone to stop worrying as much. You could ask, ‘Do you want to talk about what this means to you?’

If you notice yourself getting unusually upset anytime someone expresses a particular emotion, it may be time to look inward. And see what your relationship with that emotion is.

Because oftentimes we default to this dark side of positivity that is toxic positivity, because we actually feel uncomfortable handling the big emotions of other people. It can be difficult, especially if someone is in is in the over-identification mode.

Other times it can be because we want to fix it for them and we don’t feel like we have a solution.

Other times it can be because we don’t actually allow ourselves to experience that emotion fully and so we’re pissed off at someone else is experiencing it.

Alyssa Patmos 14:23

You are like a rainbow. So allow yourself the full spectrum of colors. When we only see the white light of positivity. We miss out on all the other colors in the spectrum 🌈

You can change your relationships from the inside out by practicing these skills, these pivots for yourself and modeling them for people around you.

Sometimes, sometimes, once we see someone else doing it, we realize it’s safe and we can take the leap ourselves. There is so much power in modeling, and modeling it for ourselves.

And then when other people see it, it’s like, oh, I hadn’t thought to do it that way, and it seems to be working for you. Maybe it’ll work for me.

‘It’s okay not to be okay.’ This is one that I’ve had to tell myself numerous times throughout the years.

And most importantly, healing doesn’t come from suppression. Healing doesn’t come from suppression. Suppression usually leads to more stress and dis-ease which can ultimately lead to disease.

Something my mom taught me early on, like, disease with a hyphen in the middle, like disease is often rooted in dis ease, and suppressing our emotions stirs up a lot of disease.

Instead, allow all of your emotions, love yourself enough to allow for anger, sadness, grief, confusion, bewilderment. At times, the intensity of the emotion passes much much quicker when they’re allowed, rather than suppressed.

So the next time you have a big emotion come up or you’re around someone with a big emotion, instead of defaulting to toxic positivity and some of these cliche phrases that stop the conversation or stop the allowance of emotion. Remember the three A’s: Acknowledge, Allow, and Ask.

If you want more perspectives to help you pivot, sign up for my newsletter, The peel at and I will catch you next week. Thank you so much for tuning in.

Alyssa Patmos 16:52
You’ve just finished listening to another episode of Make It Mentionable with me your host Alyssa Patmos. If you’re looking for more in between episodes, then sign up for The Peel. It’s my free newsletter that gives tips for how to navigate whatever life dishes and it’s also the place where I share the juiciest stories. To check it out. Head on over to Thank you so much for tuning in. And I’ll see you next time.

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