What Is Toxic Positivity and How Does It Affect Addiction Recovery?

December 28, 2022

Written By: Buena Vista Recovery

Staying positive is an incredible skill, especially in the face of adversity. For those navigating recovery, the ability to bounce back from challenges and overcome feelings of depression, anxiety, and more, are amazing. However, it is also possible for too much positivity to have a number of inadvertent, adverse effects on an individual’s daily life.

Prioritizing a positive mindset above acknowledging other emotions can leave those in recovery ill-equipped to face challenges ahead. Better known as toxic positivity, this is the idea of being unrealistically positive. Recognizing the signs of toxic positivity is crucial in creating a more honest and effective mindset for overcoming the challenges that addiction recovery will present.

What Is Toxic Positivity?

Finding effective ways to stay positive in recovery is important. However, toxic positivity takes this idea and turns it into something that does more harm than good. Toxic positivity is the practice of “staying positive” in the face of challenges by avoiding, ignoring, or otherwise not acknowledging other difficult emotions.

A person may feel sad or guilty about being angry or frustrated and may recite inspirational quotes to hide their emotions or feign happiness. Others may actively ignore stresses in their lives to maintain a positive mindset, even if ignoring these things causes further stress and difficulty in their life. This may include avoiding discussing finances or ignoring the consequences of personal actions and strained relationships.

The Dangers of Toxic Positivity

Toxic positivity presents many unique dangers for those working to recover from addiction. Pushing down difficult emotions can leave an individual ill-equipped to process stress in their lives. Feelings of anxiety, depression, and more can build up until an individual feels compelled to release these emotions in destructive ways. As a result, individuals are more prone to engage in self-destructive behaviors, such as substance use.

The risk of relapse also increases when emotions are not properly dealt with. Even though sadness, anger, and shame are uncomfortable emotions, they are incredibly important to acknowledge and process in recovery. Experiencing these emotions is completely normal. Toxic positivity not only causes an individual to further feel bad about experiencing negative emotions but leaves them without practiced outlets to effectively process them.

Likewise, the effects of toxic positivity can also make it difficult to connect with others socially. Learning to be sympathetic and address hardships alongside family and peers is instrumental in creating trusting, supportive relationships. Feeling discomfort facing these emotions can be a major barrier to developing essential relationships. A person may not want to hear “just stay positive,” or “such is life,” but rather have someone truly acknowledge the negative emotions and challenges they face.

Toxic positivity is rarely a genuine kind of optimism but rather a forced mask to hide unwanted emotions. This form of positivity can be tied to feelings of shame if a person feels that their own real emotions are somehow “unacceptable” or “wrong.” This creates unhealthy expectations of their emotional state. It can also prevent the development of effective coping strategies and affects the personal and professional goals that an individual sets for themselves.

Lastly, toxic positivity can also detract from the genuine accomplishments that a person makes across their recovery journey. Each milestone in recovery is profound because of the challenges that need to be overcome. Acknowledging these challenges is necessary to understand the progress a person is making in their journey to a healthier, sober life.

Overcoming Toxic Positivity

Identifying toxic positivity is the first step, and overcoming this mentality requires a shift in perspective. However, it is also instrumental to create an honest, healthy approach to the challenges of daily life.

Change Language

The effects of toxic positivity can cause an individual to repeat common positive phrases ad infinitum. A person may find repeat phrases like “everything happens for a reason” without thinking. However, this language can have a massive impact on another’s mentality. Adopting the ability to acknowledge when things seem hard, voicing mistakes and failures, and being willing to admit difficult feelings all create more honest expectations. This doesn’t mean that a person must expect the worst outcomes or failure, but rather allows those in recovery to effectively set expectations in detox, residential, or intensive outpatient care and develop recovery strategies accordingly.

Acknowledge That Multiple Emotions Are Possible

Emotions can be confusing and enigmatic. Understanding personal emotional states takes time and practice. It is wholly possible for an individual to feel multiple, conflicting emotions simultaneously – a mindset that toxic positivity does not allow. An individual can feel both angry and relieved, both love and resentment, and even pride alongside anger and confusion. All of these emotions are equally valid. Acknowledging the presence of multiple emotions is necessary to understand the equivocal weight each emotion carries to better address personal emotional needs.

Use a Journal

Journals are an exceptionally powerful recovery tool, allowing each individual to look back on their journey and provide a new perspective on their experiences. Daily journals can allow an individual to write down difficult feelings if they are not yet comfortable voicing them. They can also help an individual identify when their positivity is overshadowing other emotional needs. Looking back on journal entries can provide context to an individual’s journey, not only identifying the presence of stresses and emotions while normalizing them but also proving that they are capable of overcoming these challenges rather than avoiding them.

Toxic positivity is a dangerous mentality to adopt. Overcoming the effects of toxic positivity by learning to safely acknowledge and process other emotions is an important skill in addiction recovery. We at Buena Vista Recovery understand the need to effectively address and normalize an array of difficult and trying feelings throughout the recovery process to create the most effective coping strategies. We are prepared to help you adopt a new mentality, perspective, and personalized strategies for a healthier future. For more information on how we can personalize your time with us, or to speak to a caring, trained staff member about the benefits of our available programs, call us today at (480) 741-9414.