Say Goodbye to “Good Vibes Only” - Beat Toxic Positivity at Work

Updated: 4 days ago


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Sick of all the “good vibes only” posts on social media? Us too ✋


Motivational words like “look on the bright side”, and “everything happens for a reason” might have their value. But these phrases backfire when they dismiss difficult situations and emotions.


Especially in the workplace, a culture of toxic positivity can hurt engagement and communication. Eventually, it creates more distress, no matter how well-intentioned.


So amongst today’s rocky corporate climate and its resulting stir of emotions, we’ll cover the in-and-outs of toxic positivity at work. It’s time to say goodbye to the idea of having “no bad days”.


What Exactly is Toxic Positivity?


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Toxic positivity is the belief that positive thinking should be applied to all experiences of pain, suffering, or difficulties. Rather than acknowledge and deal with difficult emotions, it rejects them in favor of a merry, often falsely positive, facade.


This mindset is subtle. But here’s how it manifests in our day-to-day lives:

  • Feeling ashamed or guilty for being angry, disappointed, or upset

  • Brushing off, rather than facing your problems

  • Using feel-good quotes to minimize your true feelings

  • Disrespecting others when they aren’t “positive”

  • Invalidating others’ feelings because they make you feel uneasy


When people are coping with job retrenchments, the loss of a loved one, trauma, or illness, they don’t need to be told to stay positive, they already know that.


In the workplace, this might look like telling struggling employees that “things will get better,” without making changes that would ensure they do. Employees then end up feeling like they can’t be honest about their concerns. This eventually turns people away from discussing issues that need to be resolved through transparent communication.


Four Ways to Beat Toxic Positivity and Approach Difficult Emotions at Work


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While optimism can boost workplace morale, it shouldn’t be promoted as a way to escape or deny reality. Everyone in the organizational system - your leaders, colleagues, and yourself, must learn to embrace unavoidable challenges, at work and in life. That’s the first step to nurturing a truly healthy workplace culture.


It takes time, awareness, and practice but here are a few ways we can get started:


1) Feel your feelings


Ironically, the field of positive psychology echoes that we need to embrace challenging emotions to find true happiness (1). Anger, hate, love, jealousy, sadness, joy - ALL these feelings are real and valid. Instead of avoiding or suppressing the painful ones, give yourself time and space to process them.


This is especially when the corporate bottom line is red and layoffs are looming. It’s natural to experience fear and panic. But know that you’ll be in a much better headspace to consider any necessary career decisions after you’ve processed those tricky feelings.


2) Give your feelings form


Going through a tough time at work? Try giving your emotions physical existence by writing them down. Studies have shown that verbalizing or journaling tough feelings lowers their intensity on a neurological level (2).


Talking things out with trusted friends or a therapist are also fantastic ways to get those heavy feelings off your chest. The ThoughtFullChat App journal feature is a good place to start. And if you’re looking for something more, our ThoughtFull Professionals are always there to guide you through your office woes.


3) Avoid using work to cope


It’s easy to overextend ourselves with work as a way to dismiss our feelings. Or perhaps you’re going the extra mile helps you cope with the fear of being retrenched. While these behaviors may give us temporary peace of mind, they can also drive us down to self-neglect and burnout.


Know that when corporate grounds are shaky, it’s normal to feel anxious, stressed, or even scared. And it’s tempting to do more to feel “in control”. But instead of working compulsively, make sure your basic self-care is sorted. By keeping your wellness in check, you’re more adept at managing your emotions and preventing physical ails in the long run.


4) Listen, support, care


Avoid shutting people down with unhelpful platitudes when they express a concern or difficult emotion about work. Listen intently, and let them know that what they are feeling is valid. You don’t need to have a response to everything they say. Just show your support, and assure them that you’ll be there when things get too intense.


For example, when a colleague says they’re stressed out, respond with statements like “Tell me more” or “It sounds like…” Doing so helps them feel heard, validated, and they’d be more willing to discuss potential solutions with you.


Summary


Pain, failure, loss, or disappointment in work and life is unavoidable. But rather than always trying to “turn a frown upside down”, we radically accept all our human emotions, especially the messy ones. And when we combat toxic positivity in the workplace, we create a resilient culture of genuine action while supporting our teams during these challenging times.


We’re Here to Help!


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Footnotes

  1. What is Positive Psychology & Why is It Important? [2020 Update]

  2. Putting Feelings Into Words - Matthew D. Lieberman, Naomi I. Eisenberger, Molly J. Crockett, Sabrina M. Tom, Jennifer H. Pfeifer, Baldwin M. Way, 2007





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