Social Media: When Positive Vibes Become Toxic Positivity

I have a bee in my bonnet. Actually, it’s more of an angry hornet, so what better way to get it off my chest than to blog about it.

My beef? #goodvibesonly #blessed #sograteful all over social media, when in reality your life is just like everyone else’s – great bits, not so great bits and some full-on car crash moments sprinkled throughout.

So, please show it all – or #stopsharing. Because, if your life is genuinely picture perfect then, whilst I’m delighted for you, I’d urge you to crack on enjoying every moment and let the rest of us muddle through the best we can.

Basically, my request is simple – please stop with the online toxic positivity.

What is Toxic Positivity?

‘Toxic Positivity’ refers to excessive focus and communication of the positives in life while dismissing or denying negative emotions and circumstances. It promotes the idea that we should ALWAYS be happy, optimistic and living our best life.

It may have worked for Pollyanna but I genuinely have some days where I’m scraping the bottom of a very big barrel of negative to find any positivity at all. And I am known for my optimism. Of course, it helps to remind ourselves of the good things in life during darker days, but not whilst ignoring challenges and the anger, frustration, sadness and confusion they inevitably bring.

Optimism and positivity don’t involve pushing those feelings aside and hoping for the best. They are important and valid. They need acknowledging and working through before we can genuinely shift focus, otherwise it’s just a sure-fire way to have them come back and bite you on the ass!

For more on the importance of ‘negative’ emotions head to my blog ‘Embracing Those Messy Emotions: The Key to Thriving in Midlife’.

Examples of Toxic Positivity

  • Not being honest and balanced about the positive elements and challenges in your life, either with yourself or others
  • Hiding what we really feel – from ourselves and others
  • Dismissing, and feeling guilty for having ‘negative’ emotions
  • Presenting only a carefully curated version of your life to the outside World
  • Minimising other people’s experiences by saying things like ‘just don’t think about it’ or ‘let’s not dwell on that’, thereby making your discomfort more important than their feelings
  • Deciding ‘it could be worse’ and in inadvertently shaming someone for feeling bad

Toxic Positivity on Social Media

Whilst there are many examples of toxic positivity in life, some forms are becoming epidemic online. You know the kind of thing – the endless showcasing of peoples’ seemingly perfect and happy lives. And this trend is increasing, because God forbid we should post anything that might be perceived as negative or anything less than total ‘#goals’.

Don’t get me wrong, I am really happy to scroll through Insta shots of your family holidays and fun activities etc. But when did it all become so Stepford perfect? Perpetually pristine children and exhibition worthy smoothie bowls whipped up between sweat-free HIIT workouts and quality family time in breath-taking places.

How about some good old-fashioned balance? I want authentic and achievable not curated and exhausting to watch, let alone live up to. I’m happy to high five your wins – but please acknowledge the challenges too. Let me in on your mum bun/no make-up moments, the pizza nights and when your kids look like something out of Stig of the Dump (or maybe that’s just mine). And please, make the smoothie, eat the damn smoothie- it doesn’t need a makeover!

For the most part, it’s not motivating, its demoralising and leaves many individuals with unrealistic expectations, and feeling inadequate and dissatisfied. Worse still – it’s shaming. Just another stick for us to beat ourselves with. In a world where many women are already drowning in guilt and unworthiness, they don’t need additional help.

Oversharing on Social Media

And (sorry….I’m on a roll!), what about not posting sometimes? I get that your relatives want to see your holiday snaps, and having them as Facebook memories is lovely for annual reminiscing. But, I can’t help feeling that really special moments, and the associated warm fuzzy glow, are there to be privately treasured between those involved. After all, true happiness and gratitude should be savoured and embodied in the moment – that’s pretty hard if you’re viewing most of your life through your iPhone lens.

For me, there is a fine line between showcasing your best bits and simply seeking approval. Why spend significant time and energy trying to prove yourself to a Worldwide audience of people you don’t know, will most likely never connect with and that don’t add real value to your life. Sharing the truth, warts and all, serves everyone (including yourself) WAY more than unrealistic and curated snapshots that tell half-truths. What is wrong with the real you? I for one would like to get to know them.

And if you’re in the lifestyle/wellness industry, maybe stop and think about what is really going to be motivating and help build someone’s knowledge and confidence. Rather than promote feelings of inadequacy so they just hit the biscuits whilst scrolling through yet more online evidence that they just don’t cut the mustard. Vulnerability and shame researcher, Brené Brown, put it beautifully ‘what we don’t need in the midst of struggle is shame for being human’.

Toxic Positivity Culture

Why does this get to me so much? Because it seeps insidiously off social media and into our everyday lives. We start to feel ashamed of our ‘bad’ bits. Heck – even our normal bits! We feel like the ‘mundane’ life we live is not ‘enough’, that we are not enough, and that we need to hide or embellish the reality to gain approval.So, we all start to try to portray the ‘ideal’, paint over the cracks and talk up the reality.

I have been as guilty as anyone of this, with some ‘all good here’ tendencies, but if a major life implosion teaches you anything it’s that the mess and the associated feelings are better out than in, and the only way to get them out is to share them, otherwise they become fester and risk becoming toxic.

Consequences of Toxic Positivity

  • Suppression and intensification of normal emotions: Labelling certain emotions as “bad” or “negative” contributes to stigmatisation of normal human feelings and experiences, and can increase feelings of isolation. Such emotions become ‘wrong or inappropriate’, and are suppressed due to guilt and shame. Suppressing negative emotions instead of addressing them can also intensify them over time and increase mental health issues.
  • Pressure to conform: Promoting boundless positivity sets unrealistic expectations, leading to disappointment and frustration when life’s challenges arise. Constantly seeing others’ positive posts can foster unhealthy comparison, envy, and feelings of inadequacy and dissatisfaction with life.
  • Reduced connection and support: Toxic positivity hinders genuine understanding and empathy. It encourages individuals to downplay their struggles and avoid honest conversations for fear of being met with dismissive or overly positive responses.
  • Missed opportunities for growth: Negative emotions often provide opportunities for self-reflection and personal growth. Suppressing these emotions can hinder this process.
  • Avoidance of real solutions: Focusing solely on positivity can lead to genuine problems being ignored and therefore solutions are never sought. We might then lean into negative coping strategies such as emotional eating. Head to my blog post ‘Overcoming Emotional Eating in Midlife’.

Practicing Healthy Positivity on Social Media

I’m lucky – I am surrounded by very real and honest friends. They know about the dark days, the major mishaps, the absolute cringey moments in my life – and they share theirs. We get to be perfectly imperfect, share our truths, learn from our mistakes (sometimes) and move on. Not everyone has that resilience shield. If you are one of them, I urge you to seek out and nurture those friendships and reconsider how you spend your time on social media.

  • Curate Your Feed: Be intentional about the content you consume by following accounts that align with your values, promote a balanced perspective and inspire you in a positive way. Unfollow or mute accounts that trigger you (inadvertently or inadvertently) or that consistently share content that affects your mood and well-being.
  • Engage Mindfully: Mindless scrolling can lead you down content rabbit holes. Thoughtfully choose where you pause and which posts you interact with as they’re the types of posts you are going to see more of.
  • Engage – it’s social media after all: If you’re not interested in being social on social media then maybe it’s time to leave.The passivity with which many people use social media is one reason it can increase feeling of loneliness. If you’re not interacting then you can feel isolated and outside the conversation. And undoubtably, if you’re spending your time mindlessly scrolling then you’re not out in the real-world fostering connections (in person or over the phone) either. Consider a serious social media cull and only follow those you wish to interact with.
  • Share Thoughtful Content: Ensure that what you are posting is likely to have a positive, not negative, impact on others. Intentional or not – could your posts be considered curated or inauthentic? A bit too #goals. If you’re sharing – keep it real. Embrace vulnerability and show that everyone has ups and downs. If you’re having a tougher day, why not talk about it? The more we normalise conversations about genuine feelings the better.
  • Choose Positivity in Responses: Respond positively to others’ posts whenever possible. Offer words of encouragement, validation, and support. Congratulate others on their achievements, milestones, and positive moments. Spread positivity by acknowledging their successes. Don’t be a keyboard warrior or troll – if you have nothing nice to say then say nothing at all.

I may have ranted a little in places here – I apologise. Because, I get it and I’ve been guilty of exactly what I am now carrying on about. Being authentic requires vulnerability, showing our darker side  – which can be SO uncomfortable. But, at risk of over quoting Brené Brown (I can’t help it – she’s the queen of this stuff) ‘You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness’.

In other words – dare to be your unfiltered, true self both in person and online. Know your value and stand with your imperfections and bloopers. Show people the highs, lows and everything in between, because that is the beauty of life and being human. It will bring you closer to those you love and those who get you – the rest don’t matter.

Right, I’m off to take a bit of my own advice….seeing as this seems to have got under my skin a little…social media cull here we come!!

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments. And if you like what you’ve read and would like more practical information and tips on nutrition, lifestyle and mindset for midlife women then give me a follow at motherflushingmidlife at the social links below. And of course, feel free to share!

About me

Hi, I’m Suzanne, midlifer, Transformational Coach and Nutritional Therapist.

As a midlife and menopause coach I work with women ready to prioritise their needs, be proactive with their wellbeing and navigate towards the bright and vibrant future they deserve.

More posts

%d bloggers like this: