Despite what you’ve seen and read on the ‘Gram, not all vibes are good vibes. But that kind of statement is an easy example of toxic positivity phrases.
“Toxic positivity is the belief that thinking, talking or acting in a seemingly positive way will protect you from the effects of negative experiences, relationships, thoughts and beliefs,” says Maryam Elbalghiti-Williams, LCSW-C, LICSW.
Toxic positivity can be internalized. But Elbalghiti-Williams says it results from societal pressure to just be happy. “Particularly in American culture, there is the belief that happiness is the goal of life, and if we are unhappy or suffering in some way, we have to fix it so we can be happy again,” she explains.
As a result, people may say well-meaning—but massively invalidating—phrases to people struggling with something. Here, experts share the harm in toxic positivity and 35 phrases to think twice about. They also offer tips on what to say instead.
Why Is Toxic Posivitivy Harmful?
People may have good intentions when blurting out a statement filled with toxic positivity. But Elbalghiti-Williams says it often backfires.
“Toxic positivity often shows up in the form of dismissive comments directed towards people trying to cope with adversity,” Elbalghiti-Williams elaborates. “In telling people to perk up about their problems and simply ‘think positive,’ we are unintentionally invalidating their experience of pain.”
Often, the only person who benefits from a toxic positivity statement is the person making it.
“Toxically positive responses to pain often act to protect the commenter from feeling uncomfortable about the other person’s problems and lead to the person suffering and feeling even more alone,” Elbalghiti-Williams says.
35 Toxic Positivity Phrases To Throw Out ASAP
1. It could always be worse.
This one tops Elbalghiti-Williams’ list of phrases to ditch.
“Pressuring ourselves and others to feel grateful for what we have reinforces the belief that our problems are never really ‘that bad’ as long as others are worse off,” Elbalghiti-Williams explains.
2. Just work a little harder.
This phrase may seem encouraging. It’s not.
“We’re not acknowledging what they’re doing so far,” says Dr. Regine Muradian, PsyD., a licensed clinical psychologist and author. “That can be discouraging.”
3. God/the universe only gives you what you can handle.
Some people may believe this one, but not everyone. And, even if someone does believe it, they may not want to hear it when venting.
“This sentence diminishes what the person is feeling,” says Dr. Muradian.
4. At least there’s a silver lining…
At some point, a person may find positive in a negative situation. But they may not be there yet.
“Instead of bringing comfort, trying to find the positive flip side to a negative situation makes us feel stupid and silly for our feelings about a difficult experience,” Elbalghiti-Williams says.
Dr. Muradian agrees: “This phrase is disconnected from how someone is feeling.”
5. All that matters is that everyone is healthy.
A popular one during the early days of the pandemic, this phrase is a common one. People may use it if a friend totaled their car in an accident but walked away unscathed or if a birth plan didn’t play out the way someone hoped.
Dr. Muradian says this phrase misses the point.
“You’re not looking at it from their point of view,” Dr. Muradian explains. “They may think, ‘This is what happened to me. I’m really in pain right now.'”
6. You’re strong enough to handle this.
This one may be true, but it actually puts a ton of pressure on the person on the receiving end.
“It doesn’t give them space to explore weaknesses,” Dr. Muradian shares. “They may surprise those weak emotions to feel strong. Then, they can get into burnout.”
7. Look on the bright side.
This line is another one people commonly say when someone is having a tough time. Elbalghiti-Williams wishes they wouldn’t.
“While looking at a problem from a different perspective can be helpful, this phrase shuts us down rather than opens us up to other viewpoints,” Elbalghiti-Williams says.
8. Don’t worry, be happy.
Just because someone put it in a song doesn’t make it strikes the right chord.
“Unfortunately, we can’t snap our fingers and feel happy,” Elbalghiti-Williams says.
9. Just focus on the positive.
But what if someone wants to get the negative off their chest?
“They may want to talk about what they are feeling right now, like a divorce or challenging move,” Dr. Muradian stresses.
10. Think happy thoughts.
People can’t always control what pops into their heads.
“This popular belief ignores the reality of our pain and makes us feel responsible for having difficult feelings like sadness or disappointment,” Elbalghiti-Williams says.
11. Things always work out for the best.
Say a friend just had a baby and lost a job. Dr. Muradian explains how someone may say, “See? Things always work out for the best. Now, you get to spend time with your baby.” Or, maybe the person is child-free but hated the job.
While the person may be happy, they may also be staring at the ceiling, wondering how they’ll afford life.
Instead, she suggests saying, “I am here if you need me.”
12. The universe gives you what you need, not what you want.
Make sure you know someone’s religious and spiritual beliefs before doling this one out.
“Not everyone believes in the universe or God,” Dr. Muradian says. “It takes away from important conversations and the other party being there for that person.”
13. First-world problems.
Yes, terrible things are happening elsewhere in the world (and, frankly, here at home). That doesn’t mean someone’s experience doesn’t matter.
“You’re basically asking someone why they are complaining,” Dr. Muradian says. “It’s very dismissive.”
14. But you have so much to be grateful for.
Gratitude is great. This phrase? Not so much in certain situations.
“While it’s well known that gratitude can be a healthy practice, this statement writes off our pain and tells us we don’t have a right to feel the way we do because there are positive things in our life,” Elbalghiti-Williams says.
15. I’m sure it will all work out.
Will it, though?
“The problem is, sometimes it doesn’t always work out,” Elbalghiti-Williams says. “We need empathy to work through problems, not platitudes.”
16. Good vibes only.
This one is popular—and it’s not a good thing.
“We can’t just ignore other vibes or feelings,” Elbalghiti-Williams stresses. “It’s important to feel all of our emotions.”
17. Remember your why.
This phrase often gets muttered to parents or people grappling with career difficulties, such as teachers or nurses.
“People want to feel seen, heard, valued and supported,” Dr. Muradian says.
This phrase puts the burden on the person to suck it up because they signed on to something—but they may have valid concerns.
18. Just relax.
Does this one actually work? Dr. Muradian has yet to see it benefit anyone but the person saying it.
“That’s a projection of how they are feeling,” Dr. Muradian explains. “They are anxious at that moment and can’t handle [someone else’s] feelings. I would refrain from using that phrase, period.”
19. Never give up.
Actually, sometimes quitters win.
“It’s OK to quit sometimes if it’s not good for your mental health,” Dr. Muradian says.
20. Manifest your destiny.
Sorry, TikTok. Lucky Girl Syndrome and canned lines about manifesting your destiny are not always the vibe a pal wants when they’re struggling.
“Telling people to manifest what they want is a slippery slope ending with self-blame when problems in our life arise,” Elbalghiti-Williams says.
21. Just stop thinking about it.
Pushing thoughts out of our heads can sometimes cause more harm than good because it forces us to bury our feelings.
“In order for people to heal, they have to be in their emotional space,” Dr. Muradian says.
This phrase doesn’t let them have that room to feel their feelings.
22. Negativity attracts negativity.
This phrase is another one that puts the onus on the person having a challenging time to “just feel better already.”
“You’re saying, ‘You’re negative, so, of course, you are going to attract negative,'” Dr. Muradian says. “Sometimes, it’s a person projecting because they don’t want to hear negative things.”
23. God needed another angel in heaven, so He called them home.
Death is uncomfortable, but so is this phrase.
“This statement tries to make sense out of senseless death experiences but leaves the griever feeling alone and misunderstood,” Elbalghiti-Williams says.
24. What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.
Great Kelly Clarkson song. Not a great line.
“Here, in an attempt to be encouraging, we’re actually skipping over the meat of our experience and ignoring events or feelings that need to be worked through,” Elbalghiti-Williams explains.
25. Check your negativity at the door.
Elbalghiti-Williams says this is a common one in schools and workplaces.
“[It] makes us feel hesitant to open up about how we really feel,” she says.
Worse, it’s manipulative.
“It’s also a way for those with power at work or school to silence those who don’t from expressing the reasons why they’re having a hard time,” Elbalghiti-Williams says.
26. Just keep trying. You’ll figure it out.
Elbalghiti-Williams says this one is sneaky.
“This belief makes us feel ashamed for wanting to quit or stop trying at a project or work,” she says. “In fact, when we give ourselves permission to stop trying so hard at something we can ask for help or come up with a new solution that requires more ‘out of the box’ thinking.”
27. Don’t have expectations.
This phrase is meant to help people feel laidback about something stressful, such as birth or a job interview. But Dr. Muradian says it’s devaluing—it’s OK for the other person to have goals, even if they may not achieve them and feel disappointed.
28. There are no flowers without rain.
There’s some truth to this statement. That doesn’t make saying it a good idea.
“It’s just cringy to say to someone who is suffering,” Elbalghiti-Williams says. “When we’re suffering, we can’t see the ‘flowers’ that could come at the end of the pain. We need to be heard, not told to skip through the hard parts.”
29. Success is the only option.
Is it, though?
“Without failures, we can’t learn,” Elbalghiti-Williams says. “We need to learn to embrace failing and trying something new.”
30. You got this.
People say this one with the best of intentions, but it doesn’t always land well. Dr. Muradian suggests shifting the narrative by thinking of the other person.
“They may not feel that they got it,” Dr. Muradian says. “Maybe they want to feel like they don’t got it. I think people want to be vulnerable. Let them express themselves.”
31. Just be optimistic.
If only it were that easy.
“This is a dismissive way to handle anxiety about the future and ultimately leads us to judge how we feel instead of accepting and working through the anxiety,” Elbalghiti-Williams says.
32. Happiness is a choice.
“Sometimes, we literally can’t be happy,” Elbalghiti-Williams explains. “Many mental health disorders have neurochemical components to them—think, ADHD, depression and bipolar disorder—and no amount of choosing will snap us out of what we’re experiencing. Therapy, medication, community and other supports can help us learn to navigate dark times or flares in our mental health.”
Related: 35 Phrases To Disarm a Narcissist
33. Don’t quit on a bad day.
Actually, today may be the best day to call it quits. Dr. Muradian says it’s perfectly acceptable for you or someone else to listen to what their mind and body need.
34. Be a team player.
This one is huge in the workplace but pops up in relationships with friends, partners and roommates.
“It’s very selfish,” Dr. Muradian says. “It’s only thinking about what they need to accomplish.”
35. At least it’s not…
It’s not a competition to see who has it worse.
“This phrase is invalidating and disconnected from a person’s feelings,” Dr. Muradian says.
The #1 Phrase To Say Instead
Dr. Muradian says it’s so tempting to feel like you need to respond to something right away.
“With social media, there is this idea of immediacy,” Dr. Muradian explains.
But she suggests taking a beat. Before giving a canned line full of toxic positivity—which is often unintentional—Dr. Muradian suggests asking the person what they want out of a conversation.
“I always say, ‘Do you want me to listen or do you want to give me feedback?'” she says. “We have to stress the importance of validation.”