Can Positivity Be Toxic?

There is a term that has popped up on the interwebs recently that has caught my attention. I am not sure how I feel about it 100% but it seems to be taking over many of the cancer-related pages that I am a part of. That term is toxic positivity.

What is “toxic positivity”

According to Medical News Today, “Toxic positivity is an obsession with positive thinking. It is the belief that people should put a positive spin on all experiences, even those that are profoundly tragic. Toxic positivity can silence negative emotions, demean grief, and make people feel under pressure to pretend to be happy even when they are struggling.”1

People's response to lung cancer

A lung cancer diagnosis does indeed fit into this definition of toxic positivity and how people respond to it. I think that it is important to focus on the positive in the situation such as waking up each morning. There is always the chance that the opposite could happen so we should not take each day for granted. With that being said we also need to make sure that anyone that is newly diagnosed (and even long-term survivors) understands that this diagnosis is traumatic, and no one deserves it. There will be bad days and it is ok to feel your feelings and that we cannot stay there in the negative.

So many people have told me to “stay positive” and I know that they mean well but this is the biggest part of toxic positivity because it is telling someone not to grieve their feelings after and during a traumatic experience.

Finding myself again

The day-to-day things that a lung cancer patient goes through such as scans, breathing issues, community losses, uncomfortable conversations, etc. are all things that can bring about some serious feelings. If we hide these feelings by “staying positive” then I feel that we are only going to be burned out and end up not being ourselves.

When I was diagnosed my personality changed and while I was not completely aware of it at the time my twin sister did. I remember looking back at pictures and could see the difference in myself. I smiled differently and I didn’t laugh as much. I was about as positive as I could be but was going through the process of mourning a life that was now going to be completely different.

Slowly but surely, I found myself again. It did help that I found a treatment that worked for me, that wasn’t too toxic and was bearable. The treatment allowed me to get myself back to my pre-cancer self-albeit still with the unfortunate diagnosis.

What are your thoughts about toxic positivity?

I know that this can be a tough topic to discuss, and I do not want to ruffle any feathers so to speak. Let me know about your experience been with “toxic positivity”? Do you feel that this is something that needs to be addressed in the lung cancer community or that it is not a big deal?

Let me know in the comments if you have ever been told to “just stay positive!”

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