Are You Toxically Positive? The Telltale Signs of Toxic Positivity

The answer to the following question – or something similar – is used in the most basic psychological tests to reveal how you view the world.  “If you see a one-gallon jug containing half a gallon of water, how do you view it? Is it half-full? Is it half-empty?”

The person who sees the gallon container as half full is supposedly a positive thinker. The opposite is true for the person who believes the container to be half-empty. Psychologists tell us your opinion could be different depending on your attitude, recent experiences, and several other variables.

This brings to mind the question of positive thinking versus a more negative outlook. Most people will tell you positive thinking is the way to go. It’s the path to success. Think positively always, and the world will bend to your will.

While many good things come from a positive attitude, totally embracing positivity –  even when life is difficult – isn’t always the best choice. You might suffer from toxic positivity if you believe you should act positively regardless of how dire, dangerous, or demanding your current experience is.

In a recent Psychology Today article Chloe Carmichael Ph.D. states;

Being optimistic has its benefits but anything can be taken to extreme.

Here are a few signs your mental well-being and other aspects of your life are negatively impacted by your rosy disposition.

You Ignore Your Problems

“Think positive and positive things will happen to you.” This is the advice of so many self-help gurus. They encourage you to adopt the never give in to negative emotions attitude. The problem with this type of thinking is it fails to allow you to solve many of the problems which will pop up in your life.

Ignoring negative experiences doesn’t make them go away. You must deal with them, learn from them and move past them. Closing your eyes and thinking positively in the face of a hungry, charging lion probably won’t lead to the best outcome.

“Taken to an extreme”, says Carmichael, “positivity becomes toxic and deprives us of the motivation to make healthy changes the awareness of a negative, uncomfortable reality would otherwise stimulate us to make”.

You Develop Guilt and Self-Resentment

Toxic positivity prohibits us from recognizing the full scope of human emotions. For instance – You realize you’re sad about something and immediately chastise yourself. You’re disappointed about something and immediately feel guilty for those negative feelings. You can never be your truest, most fulfilled self without embracing the reality of your emotions and becoming stronger by working through them.

You Minimize and Downplay the Feelings of Others

Unsurprisingly your constant positive attitude makes you feel uncomfortable around people experiencing negative emotions. That said – No one wants to spend time around an individual who downplays their feelings.

You Disguise How You Really Feel

Putting on a false face makes you a lie to the world. It also lets debilitating stress build up instead of letting it out – allowing yourself to process less than favorable emotions.

There may be several signs toxic positivity is present in your life or that of someone close.

Dr. Carmichael suggests asking yourself the following questions to help determine whether you are toxically positive:

* Are you afraid of conflict?
* Do you lack confidence in your problem-solving skills?
* Do you have a belief that certain emotions like anger are “bad” rather than recognizing anger is often a healthy indicator someone may be violating our boundaries?


“Look on the bright side.” That’s just one of many pieces of advice extolling the power of positive thinking. While a positive attitude is a valuable gift to have it’s important to realize the stark fact ‘Bad things happen to good people’ and will likely happen to you. Plus, there’s no denying the fact you can’t always control your life experience.

However, what you can always control is your reaction to an event or situation rather than drowning in whatever negative emotions you experience when life doesn’t bring what you want or expect.  

While the statement ‘Look on the bright side can be good advice it can also be dangerous when taken to an extreme.

Positive thinking is usually a good thing. The most successful people in the world will tell you they didn’t get where they are today by constantly thinking negative thoughts. The potential danger of this outlook is when it becomes a zero-sum game


Jean L. Serio
Jean L. Serio
JEAN is a certified Human Resources professional with more than twenty-five years of experience in recruitment, interviewing, job training and development, resume, and LinkedIn Profile writing and review. The last 5 as a Certified Interview Success Coach, CEIC. With a passion for training, she guides others in first understanding their skills and strengths and how to best present themselves during an interview to help them secure the job. Her skills and expertise are also utilized to optimally prepare clients for confidently engaging with HR, hiring pros and decision-makers, and guiding them in how to enthusiastically and professionally respond during an interview rather than fearing the process. Her solid experience, coupled with expertise in the unspoken workings of the interview and hiring process, helps individuals prepare to present their achievements, skills, and expertise not only in a professional but compelling, way using stories of achievements which help the interviewee engage the interviewer or hiring a pro to effectively respond to questions to help raise their get-hired opportunities. Jean has been featured in Forbes;; BLR-Daily HR Advisor; ERE’s Daily HR Advisor; Next Ave. division of PBS; Medium; Entrepreneur HQ Magazine; Self Growth; beBee International, CBS, and NBC online and more. Her past has also included workshop trainings for HR, hosting hiring forums, speaking at job conferences for both job seekers and hiring pros, and more.

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  1. When I was asked this question in a psychological session, my answer was “the glass is totally full”. When I was challenged on this response my answer was the glass was half full of liquid and half full of air. That created a closed conference among the doctors.

    While I am basically a positive person, I agree that being that exclusively is not good. There is a time to be positive and a time to be negative. I think the trick is to be realistic..