Pathways for positivity: Toxic Positivity

When I established my business six years ago, I had a clear vision. My goal was to support young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds or less privileged areas, in realising their potential beyond the limitations of their circumstances.

What does that mean? Well it means that everyone, no matter who or where they are from, has equal access to deliberately choosing more positive thoughts that can ultimately dictate the outcome of their lives.

That’s not an airy fairy notion, it’s a fact backed by neuroscientists, they say that how we think influences how we feel and interact with the world around us. But in order to do that, you have to learn how … something that doesn’t feature highly on the national curriculum.

I named the business Pathways for Positivity, a title reflecting the neural pathways within the brain. As we engage in activities including reading, meditation, learning new languages or artistic expression, we encourage new neural connections, thereby improving brain health.

This process enhances cognitive functions like memory and focus, promoting mental alertness as we age. As a result, neural pathways can be reshaped to regulate our emotions, thoughts, and responses, increasing qualities such as compassion, gratitude, and joy while reducing negative emotions like anxiety, fear, worry and anger.

I didn’t choose the name Pathways for Positivity because I’m always happy and optimistic. Like anyone else, I have periods of sadness and adversity. Nonetheless, my core belief is that even when life feels challenging, circumstances can improve.

That being said, there is a time and a place to step away from the idea that positive thoughts are the simple solution to all of our problems.

You may have heard of toxic positivity — it’s when people feel compelled to suppress genuine emotions. They feel pressured into wearing a mask of positive happiness. They bury their feelings of sadness, anger, or frustration, which can result in emotional repression and denial.

They do it so as not to upset or worry the people around them. And rather than processing emotions in a healthy way, they internalise their true feelings, leading to heightened stress, anxiety and worry, causing potential depression or suicidal thoughts. This is particularly common among men who often put on a brave face to hide troubling emotions deep inside.

It’s tempting to see what we want sometimes, perhaps somebody we care deeply about, who hasn’t quite been themselves recently is now laughing, joking and being the centre of attention. They’re suddenly high on life and extremely positive. All of their previous worries appear to have gone. You want to be happy for them. But it’s at this time, I’d urge you to talk with this person and explain that you’re pleased they seem to have turned things around, but you’re still there to listen, chat with and confide in if they aren’t quite as happy or positive as they’d like to have other people think. Showing worry, fear, anxiety or overwhelm isn’t a sign of weakness.

One of the fundamental signs for suicide awareness that people often overlook is a sudden boost in positivity and behaviour.

So while I am a huge advocate for the power of positivity I don’t believe it should be used to paper over the cracks of unhappiness.

If you or someone you care about is struggling, contact your GP for an appointment or reach out to online mental health services for more advice.


Shannon Humphrey is a First Aid for Mental Health Instructor –

Image: Shutterstock


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