• Michelle Barsky

Toxic Positivity Isn’t Helpful for Depressed People, But Validation Is


If you’ve never heard of toxic positivity, it's the belief that no matter how awful or dire the situation may be, you should always maintain a positive mindset. It’s the belief that you should always be optimistic.


That may not sound terrible, and it may even work for some people. But toxic positivity can promote the idea that it’s not okay to openly and honestly deal with difficult emotions. For people with depression - sadness, hopelessness, exhaustion, and more are a part of their daily life.


Toxic positivity invalidates a depressed person’s painful struggle with their mental health.


Below I will discuss why validation over toxic positivity is the best way to support and encourage depressed loved ones.

Forms of Toxic Positivity

To better understand how to validate someone dealing with something difficult, it is important to understand what toxic positivity is. Let’s look at some examples:

  1. Telling someone to stay positive or look on the bright side. While these comments are meant to be encouraging and sympathetic, they can also be a way of shutting down emotions and invalidating individual experiences. When someone is depressed, it’s not so simple as thinking happy thoughts. Often, they have a hard time finding things to be happy about at all.

  2. Saying that everything happens for a reason. While these statements are meant to be comforting, it can also promote the idea that a depressed person should avoid their pain. Avoiding the issue doesn’t help or solve anything. Simply ignoring it will not make depression go away.

  3. Stating that happiness is a choice. This suggests the idea that experiencing negative emotions is shameful. It suggests that a person is choosing to be depressed instead of happy. Depression is characterized by chemical changes in the brain that are out of our control. Finding happiness again is more than just willing it into existence; it often takes therapy and potentially medication.


Toxic positivity is often well-intentioned, and it may just stem from the fact that some people don’t know how to deal with the emotions others are experiencing. But, it can be harmful because it denies people legitimate support that they need to cope with their depression.


Why It’s Harmful

Toxic positivity is harmful because it can cause shame, guilt, avoidance, and prevent growth.


Causing Shame: When someone is dealing with depression, all they want to feel is that their emotions are valid and that they are not alone. They should know that they can find relief and support from their friends and family.


Toxic positivity tells them that negative emotions are shameful to express.


Causing Guilt: Toxic positivity sends the message that if someone can’t find a way to feel positive, then they are approaching life “wrong.” If someone feels they are doing something wrong, a lot of guilt can arise, and it may cause them to use unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with the emotions that they are experiencing.


Depressed people are likely already aware of how their mental state appears or affects others. They may already feel guilty about it. What they need is support and validation.


Avoidance: Toxic positivity encourages depressed people to ignore their emotional situation. Even if what someone is saying is well-intentioned, it can make it seem okay to avoid their depression instead of addressing it.


Avoiding these emotions can cause denial and dismissal of what’s going on internally.


Growth Prevention: Toxic positivity denies the ability to conquer painful emotions. If we aren’t overcoming our struggles, we aren’t growing. If someone isn’t addressing their depression in a way that’s conducive for healing, then nothing will change.


Facing those challenging feelings leads to personal development and deeper insight. Self-awareness is an important part of healing.


Validate Those Around You

Even though positive mantras may be meant to lift those around you, they may also be further damaging someone’s chance at success in healing. It is absolutely possible to stay optimistic in the face of challenge, but those dealing with depression may just want to feel like they can endure their emotions without being judged.


Validating those around you instead of trying to dismiss the issue will go much further.


How You Can Validate Someone’s Experience with Depression

Encourage your loved ones to take note of their negative emotions, but not to deny them. They are allowed to be realistic about what they feel, and they are allowed to feel more than one thing. Depression is complex and often comes with many different feelings.


Focus on listening. Rethink what you may perceive as positive advice because it may not come off that way to someone with depression. Don’t shut down what they’re feeling. Instead, let them know you're there for them, and will help in whatever way they need.


Allow them to chance to accept that their feelings are real, valid, and important. Unless they are asking for it, don’t advise ways to fix the situation. Validate their situation by telling them you support, love, and are there to encourage them. Let them know you see them, hear them, and stand with them and their situation.


Just knowing that someone is there for them goes a long way.


Don’t minimize their feelings. Don’t make them feel guilty about being sad, angry, or disappointed. Encourage them to take notice of their feelings rather than brushing them off and avoiding them.


While you may think your positive statements are a source of encouragement for people with depression, it may actually do more harm than good. Pay attention to what you say to others and align it to what they may actually need.


Try to strive to let both yourself and others feel complex emotions. This will help you connect with your depressed loved one and be a dependable, stable source of comfort when they need it most.


Interested in learning more? Reach out to me today to discuss your options for scheduling your first session.


For more information on depression treatment, click the link!