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When Positivity Becomes Toxic

When Positivity Becomes Toxic

When Positivity Becomes Toxic.

I have always spoken to others about my MS with an optimistic outlook. I want people to see that life might change but it doesn't end with a chronic illness diagnosis.

However, I realized I am so used to always being positive, I was unable to be real about the dark moments to even my close friends and family. My positivity had become a compulsion that was hurting my own mental health. 

What Is Toxic Positivity?

Toxic positivity is the belief that no matter how dire the situation is, one should maintain a positive mindset. While there is science that supports the benefits of positive thinking on medical outcomes, when taken too far, this mindset can cause people to silence grief and pretend to be happy when in reality, they are struggling.

Below are some examples of toxic positive responses often used to comfort others and alternative phrases to use that inspire validation and hope. 

Toxic Positivity: “It’ll be ok.”, “It could be worse”, “Never give up”.

Validation and Hope: “I'm sorry to hear that. I’m here if you need me”, “That’s really tough. I’m sorry.”, “It’s ok to move on sometimes”.

Don’t Pity Me

I was shocked how often I said these toxic positive phrases. They were staples in how I talked about my journey to others. I was confused.

I genuinely do have a positive attitude about my MS, but my positivity had become a compulsion. I had to end every conversation with "it could be worse" or " it'll be OK."

I realized in an effort to not make others uncomfortable and avoid unwanted pity, I downplayed my darker feelings and realities about MS. I was very open about my experience and would share the negative moments, but only after I had overcome my struggles and things were a bit better. I wanted to be able to put a nice little bow around my story, speak to the silver linings of MS and how it will all be OK. 

It’s OK To Not Be OK 

I still believe in the power of positivity and the important role it leads in living with MS, but I’m actively working on not downplaying the severity of MS or the real struggles I’ve faced. Those details might not be appropriate for everyone, but with close friends and family I don't have to put on the tough facade that I had worked to maintain. 

Now, when talking to someone about my MS, I fight the urge to go tell them “it’ll be OK.” Today I’m working on just saying, “thank you for asking.”

It is OK to not be OK with MS

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About the author


United States. Diagnosed with RRMS in 2020 during the COVID shutdown. Into cooking and healthy eating. Trying to love working out. Passionate about educating people about MS and working to shatter false stereotypes. Love connecting with other MSers and showing support like others have for me.