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Although positivity is often seen as a trait worth developing, toxic positivity is not authentic. Individuals in outpatient programs may be faking their commitment to their treatment plan and progress. This can have negative outcomes for the individual’s long-term recovery. This article will discuss the positive facade some individuals put on in addiction treatment and how to live more authentically.

Should People Always Be Happy? 

It’s fair to say that everyone wants to be happy. Studies show this positive state of mind has benefits for mental and physical health and can predict higher-quality relationships and improved work performance. Positive emotions may help facilitate or manifest desired life outcomes.

Does this mean someone should pursue happiness in all situations? In other words, is it healthy to always be happy?

What Is Toxic Positivity?

There is always that one person who is known as the positive one in the group. They always seem to hold themselves together in times of distress, and say things like, “Everything is going to be okay!” In some scenarios, however, everything is not okay, and things might not be for a long time. A happy face and positive attitude can mask internal strife or avoid discomfort. 

Toxic positivity describes a denial or minimization of negative emotions associated with a distressing reality. Obstacles and losses are features of human life, and a positive mindset will not make this any less true. An overload of positivity won’t make the pain hurt any less. 

Toxic Positivity From Family & Friends

The following are some scenarios in which family and friends attempt to use toxic positivity to encourage a loved one with an addiction or mental health condition. However, the outcome is that the pain of the situation is minimized, or the person’s struggle is invalidated. In other words, these responses are not helpful to Sean, Gina, and Melanie:  

  • Sean hasn’t slept in a week and can’t leave the house due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He just got admitted into a dual diagnosis program for PSTD and opioid addiction. A friend tells him, “You have made it through so much already. I’m not worried about you being able to stay sober. You can do it!” 
  • Gina’s husband has been jailed for drunk driving again. Her sister says, “Everything happens for a reason. Things could have been worse. He could have crashed and died.” 
  • Melanie has been experiencing dissociative symptoms and thinks it may have been triggered by smoking weed. She expresses to her mom that she feels she is going crazy. Her mom says, “Just be more mindful and breathe. You’re just working yourself up. Everything will be fine!”

How Can This Lead to Poor Treatment Outcomes?

Toxic positivity doesn’t have to come from family and friends. It can subconsciously or consciously surface as a result of insecurities. 

Someone might erect a mental wall between themselves and their support group as an avoidance mechanism. This emotional divide prevents them from recognizing and admitting the truth about the challenges that have contributed to or occurred as a result of their addiction. 

Risking Relapse

Faking happiness in treatment only takes away from one’s chances at an authentic recovery. These individuals spend so much energy averting opportunities to confront their mistakes and forgive themselves. Shame and anger are disguised by a stream of reassuring slogans and performances. 

To actively discourage the expression of one’s suffering and support from others is technically a form of emotional neglect. Neglecting one’s basic needs is a trigger for relapse, continuing the cycle of addiction.

How Can Someone Be Authentically Positive?

Negative emotions are human. If a situation has left someone feeling violated, powerless, or angry, those emotions need to be given attention and care. Recognizing this simple fact of life is necessary to start moving away from toxic positivity and toward growing out of tragedy. This is known as “tragic optimism.” 

Embracing Tragic Optimism 

 A person with tragic optimism can effectively process turmoil to search for new meaning in life and transform their worldview for their own fulfillment. It’s not that a person is thankful for what happened. Rather they use their pain as an opportunity to find a way out. 

Holocaust survivor and psychoanalyst Viktor Frankl “Was able to endure unimaginable suffering…because he accepted the horrors of living and a tragic sense of life but still affirmed in the intrinsic meaning and values of life and had faith in transforming traumas into human achievement.” Frankl was able to find meaning in the fragility and impermanence of life in spite of his circumstances.

Prioritizing Positivity

The way that individuals pursue happiness matters. Attempting to make oneself feel good all the time can backfire when it doesn’t work out. As opposed to ignoring one’s needs like with toxic positivity, research shows that an obsession with monitoring and enhancing one’s well-being can also make a person worse off. Both neglecting and overcorrecting can be harmful.

Simple, Comforting Activities 

 A more effective and balanced approach to cultivating and embodying that happiness is termed “prioritizing positivity.” Anyone can prioritize positivity by scheduling uplifting activities in their everyday routine. These can be simple activities that a person is naturally inclined towards, such as:

  • Playing with pets 
  • Learning a new skill 
  • Engaging in kind acts
  • Reading religious texts 
  • Practicing acceptance 
  • Writing gratitude letters

Getting Back to Recovery 

Individuals in recovery should be mindful of attempts to thwart their own success. Developing a deep acceptance of reality while incorporating self-nurturing practices into one’s schedule can strike a balance between neglecting one’s needs and overcompensating.

Restoring one’s mental and physical health during recovery can be a challenging and sometimes painful process. Keeping up emotional walls while appearing to happily be making progress is an unproductive practice that can lead to relapse. Recovery requires a person to be willing to replace harmful thoughts and behavioral patterns. West Coast Recovery Centers is an addiction treatment center for adults in Oceanside, CA. As a primarily outpatient program, we offer intensive outpatient and partial hospitalization as flexible treatment options. We recognize that people often abuse substances to escape underlying traumas. Repeating this pattern by developing an attitude of toxic positivity will hinder a person’s chances of staying sober once their program is completed. Our goal is to empower clients to take their recovery into their own hands. To learn how we can help you or a loved one, call (760) 492-6509.