What Is "Toxic Positivity" And How Can It Be Harmful?

Disclaimer:  Please keep in mind that I am not diagnosing anyone, I am not a licensed psychiatrist, and this post is based solely on my own opinions, experiences and research. This post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace licensed mental health care. 

Additionally: Positivity, including positive motivational and inspirational quotes, affirmations, proverbs are lovely, except when used to manipulate or harm such as with regard to toxic narcissism (isn't all narcissism pretty much toxic, though?) 

I'm sure we can all agree that positivity is... well, it's positive, right? Positivity is fantastic. Of course it is. But what is "toxic positivity," also sometimes referred to as "destructive positivity," and how can it impact you when it comes to narcissism and worse, how can toxic positivity control you? 

And, what happens if "positivity" falls into the hands of a toxic narcissist?

As you probably know, narcissism is on a continuum; on a spectrum of sorts, that resides within everyone for the purposes of survival. When we discuss narcissism, we're referring to people who have more narcissistic traits which means they have more of an ability to cause narcissistic damage. We also tend to often see overlap between the grandiose, "overt" narcissist and the hypersensitive-to-criticism fragile ego of the "covert" narcissist so there's sometimes a blend of both overt and covert traits. 

False positivity can be used by any narcissist, regardless of whether they're more overt or covert.

False positivity and denial are themes in the fragile, protective bubble that surrounds the narcissist's delicate and oftentimes volatile ego. 

We often see this in self-proclaimed gurus, yogis, light workers, energy healers or whatever they've entitled themselves as being in their carousel of grandiosity and denial. Toxic positivity is usually disguised in "all love and light" so it can be difficult to spot, especially because it's driven by the dynamic of denial. 

They'll spend time posting and quoting their favorite gurus, yogis and motivational speakers so we'll believe that they, too, are as wise as the origination of the quote. The worst offenders will even read through the work of their favorites as listed above, and will simply regurgitate the quotes into their own words for public consumption.  

There's a clearly marked propensity for narcissistic individuals to mirror and validate the suffering of others, and then subsequently regurgitate false positivity as though a giant word pacifier. 

This is extremely damaging to those victims on the receiving end of these "word pacifiers" which end up just enabling the narcissists' grandiosity / magical thinking and also simultaneously invalidates the victim's feelings which is a form of narcissistic abuse.

Enlightened individuals who are truly authentic are not going to shove a word pacifier down your throat, nor are they going to mirror you and reverse blame onto you, do not play those types of gaslighting games. 

I'm not saying motivational speakers are wrong, or that they're even bad. Not at all. I'm saying that manipulative, exploitive narcissistic people will absolutely use the language of the "all love and light" such as from motivational speakers in an attempt to lure, appease, impress or even pacify their victims. 

For example...

Have you ever said something along the lines of, "I'm in pain" or whatever it happens to be, and the person reflects back at you that they, too, have experienced the same thing (mirroring --> misery loves company) and then gaslighted you by spewing forth pearls of wisdom followed by mantras or quotes? 

Or worse, they might tell you that you're supposed to get a little bit uncomfortable, it's all part of their special guru program or they advise you to reflect on whatever you're experiencing; pain, loneliness, etc., and imply or in some cases even tell you directly that it's YOUR FAULT that you're experiencing your feelings? 

What that actually translates to is, "You're not looking at your pain from the right perspective, think this way and you'll feel better/won't feel pain anymore. Now either start being positive like I am or get outta here with your ugly negativity!" 

An example would be if we told a friend, lover, therapist, whomever that we're in pain because someone hurt us, and the person invalidated us. Being invalidated feels down right terrible. 

In this example scenario, Jane is upset because her boyfriend, we'll call him Bob, is ignoring her. So Jane would say, "I'm mad and hurt by Bob because Bob is ignoring me." So the invalidating friend tells Jane to change her perspective. They tell Jane to say instead, "I'm mad at myself because I'm ignoring myself."

Huh? Seriously? How's that even possible?

Now, let's look at this logically. Is Jane actually ignoring herself? Of course she isn't. She's feeling hurt and knows she's feeling that hurt, so how could Jane be ignoring herself at all? Quite the contrary, as Jane actually feels that hurt and would very much like it to stop. She's not ignoring herself or her feelings at all. By reversing her perspective, Jane has not only told herself that she's ignoring herself which she clearly isn't doing, but Jane has simultaneously shifted blame for Bob's poor behavior onto herself.

And in doing so, this would theoretically be a cycle that would never, ever end.

In a cycle mindset like that, technically Jane could literally ask for AND accept personal blame for absolutely every negative thought or feeling she ever experiences. Now, don't get me wrong. I realize that we can choose how we view our own feelings. But to blame someone for literally every feeling they ever have regardless of what causes it is extremely INVALIDATING and is exactly like saying "feeling bad is somehow wrong, I'm not allowed to feel bad, I must take all blame for bad feelings and therefore, everything including all my feelings are wrong." 

Toxic positivity people might tell you that you're supposed to address your core wounds and get a little bit uncomfortable, but they don't understand the cycles of pain/self-blame/pain/self-blame/pain they actually create in their victims.

Don't get me wrong; inspirational quotes, mantras, proverbs and affirmations are fantastic! But when someone INVALIDATES your feelings or worse, mirrors you and reverses blame, it's just galling.

And the really bad offenders will literally SEEK OUT those who are in pain in order to feed off their empathy and pain so they can further their fragile ego bubble of denial. Remember, narcissists feed off their victims' empathy.

Here's an example.

Victim:  "I'm in pain because I'm sad and lonely."

Narcissistic Person's Response:  "You should look inside you and find out why you feel the way you do because if you'd just view it from this other perspective, then you wouldn't be so sad. I am in the same situation yet I feel happy. So you're just looking at it from the wrong perspective. Here's a positive quote from Rumi on sadness and loneliness." 

(Blame shifted to victim, "if you'd just do this then...," stolen "wisdom," fragile ego bubble is clear, narcissistic mirroring --> misery loves company disguised as validation, regurgitated pearls of wisdom, dismissive, "everything's great, you're wrong to feel the way you do, just shift your perspective" mentality.)

Normal / Enlightened Friend's Response:  "I'm so sorry you're in pain. I understand what you're saying. I get why you feel that way because I've felt that way too before. Feelings are normal and okay to have. I'm here for you. Would you like to talk?"

(Empathy felt and shown through validation of feelings, reassurance and comfort offered.) 

With an enlightened person, we see there's room for the possibility that their (opinion) is their own and isn't necessarily going to be right for the other person. A narcissist LACKS A FIRM SENSE OF SELF so they might mirror back to you whatever you're experiencing, in other words (their) own perspective of how they interpret you, with no room for further understanding or learning. 

With the narcissist we will oftentimes get the feeling they have empathy for our situation as narcissists are master manipulators and faking empathy is one of their skills. However, there's usually an overall vibe of  "this is how it is," with little or no room for the possibility of anything different.

I find it incredibly ironic the way narcissists talk about how empathetic they are and give descriptions of empathy yet are totally devoid of it. They can describe the hell out of empathy but when it comes to actual empathy they're empty.

Additionally, the narcissist will often take personal solace in the fact that Rumi (or whatever motivational speaker they decide to quote today) must've been right, therefore by using their regurgitated words, they've ensured themselves to also be "right" with again, little or no room for any other possibility.

Enlightened people know that feelings are valid, and that feelings are not always "all of one way." feelings are not all always positive or always negative. Feelings can have lots of shades of gray and be mixed.

An enlightened person knows it's not only okay to FEEL AND EXPERIENCE THEIR FEELINGS but also that the feelings they have ARE OKAY TO VALIDATE. 

And, enlightened people also know that it's unhealthy to stuff your feelings, and know it's normal to have some good days and some bad days, sometimes feel both good and bad and every shade of grey in between. 

This also rings true for relationships just like in the above example. Jane might think Bob has many good traits. But Bob might also have some negative traits along with those good ones. So the feelings she has about Bob are not always going to be the same. She may experience both positive and negative feelings toward Bob. 

Now again, I'm not knocking spirituality or positivity; as most of you know I consider myself to be very spiritual and I absolutely love positivity. I even adore positive affirmations and will re-post the ones I feel might be helpful, or just brighten your day.

It's when toxic positivity becomes weaponized by narcissists that there's a clearly marked difference between having a positive attitude or at least trying to, and holding onto narcissistic, unhealthy magical thinking. 

There are some videos by Dr. Ramani Durvasula on the subject of "Toxic Positivity" that you may find very interesting, I enjoyed watching them very much because they describe the subject of toxic positivity extremely well. The titles mentioned are available on YouTube to view for free, and are listed as follows: 

1. Narcissists and Toxic Positivity

2. How Narcissists Use Positivity To Control You

It's the general consensus that toxic positivity is clearly destructive. Understanding toxic positivity can help you spot it when you see it, and can help you avoid it on your personal path of healing from toxic relationships.

I hope this helps you! Blessings xo

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