Reviewed by Richard Tutin
Until I read this book, I had little idea that being positive could be so toxic. Psychotherapist Whitney Goodman argues that sometimes being totally positive can damage people, especially those whose self-esteem are at a low ebb in a particular moment.
We are confronted on a daily basis through media and other means with the need to remain positive despite the chaos is going on around us. We are constantly bombarded with message to maintain positive thoughts to be continually happy. Goodman though asks if positivity is the answer as well as a key to happiness, why are many people anxious, depressed and burned out?
While Goodman believes that it is important to be positive, it is also important to be able to express negative thoughts and feelings. Sometimes we let our desire to maintain a positive face and image run away from us. The result, says Goodman, is an unbalanced need to make sure that being continually positive triumphs over everything else. The thought that someone could hold a slightly different opinion that isn’t as positive as ours must be banished at all costs. The result is a toxicity that doesn’t allow others to express their thoughts and feelings especially if they are feeling down or unsure.
Reading the book reminded me of the line that says that into everyone’s life a little rain must fall. Rain is often used as a metaphor for negative and challenging situations that we all must face through our journey in life. Balancing the positive with the negative lies at the heart of what Goodman is asking us to consider.
Along the way though, Goodman introduces new ways of thinking about why positive thinking can become so toxic. There is both intentional and accidental toxic positivity. Intentional means that all negative thinking, comments and complaints are decisively put down to the point that they can never rise again. This is a feature of what is now termed cancel culture. Accidental refers to the fact that while our intentions are good in our efforts to support someone going through a tough time, it all backfires because of our misguided comments that we thought would help ease their pain. An example is when someone is articulating their pain and sorrow is then told that they should count their blessings because there are others in the world who are in a worse situation than they are.
The gentle reminder being offered throughout the book is to both recognise that being positive can have toxic consequences and to think carefully before we respond in every situation. This approach is strengthened by the inclusion of carefully worded questions that we can ask ourselves and reflect on that are found within and at the end of each chapter.
Toxic Positivity is not a self-help book as such. Its message reminds us of the need to have a balanced approach to what is happening in our life and in the lives of those around us, especially those who are near and dear to us. Being positive can be and is a good state of being but like all things in life needs to be done in careful moderation to have the best results.
Whitney Goodman is the owner of The Collaborative Counseling Center, a private therapy practice is Miami, Florida in the United States. She is also behind the popular Instagram account @sitwithwhit. She helps individuals and couples heal past wounds and create the life they’ve always wanted. Her work has been featured in dozens of publications and programmes including the New York Times, Teen Vogue, and Good Morning America,