The Harm of the Positive Psychology Trend: The Negative Side to Being Positive

Who isn’t aware of the positive psychology trend?

Life is great! Life is wonderful! All of life’s problems are solved with this idea of HAPPINESS IS A CHOICE! Wouldn’t it help your situation and make life much more bearable if you were able to think positive thoughts through your struggles to turn that frown upside-down? If you’re struggling with this concept maybe you should count your blessings and stop being such a negative Nancy! Get your gratitude journal out and make note each day your happy moments!

Ok, so do you get the point? You have heard all of this but lately social media and motivational talks are spreading this idea of a quick fix to life through positive psychology concepts like wildfire. I will preface this by saying, I am not fully against the idea of positive psychology, I use it in my own practice, however, and that is a big HOWEVER… there is a time and place for positivity. At the same time there is a time and place for negativity too. Can we cut to the chase?


The Harm of the Positive Psychology Trend: the negative side to being positive.

1. Invalidating

When a person is experiencing unpleasant emotions telling a person to be positive is invalidating to their situation. If a person shares or confides their difficult situations and hard emotions and you respond something to the effect of “count the blessings you have in life,” this is a disregard for the array of painful, angry, fearful, or sad emotions the person is in fact currently experiencing. People, ALL PEOPLE, are designed to experience both positive and negative emotions. Listening to the person and validating their pains, worries, experiences, and hurts opens the door for a deeper human connection. Invalidation of a person’s pains, worries, experiences, and hurts is a disconnection of what the person was needing to receive which is a deeper human connection. Feeling rejection or feeling misunderstood all for the sake of the positive trend is harmful to the person and potentially the relationship.

Watch this video clip from Disney’s movie Inside Out.  You will first be introduced JOY, the positive emotion. After you meet Joy you’ll be introduced to other emotions. I want you to attempt to imagine the situations these emotions respond to and what it would look like for fear, sadness, or disgust to be replaced by Joy. I think you will find it unnatural or not possible. This is the harm of suppressing emotions for the trend of positive psychology.

 2. Shame & Guilt Effect

The person who just confided their raw emotions has now just felt judged, misunderstood, and wrong for their emotional experiences. Being positive, finding the silver lining, none of this is working so the person wonders what is wrong with them. Everyone else seems to be able to just tap into that inner smile whenever they want. This, my friends, is the SHAME & GUILT EFFECT of the positive psychology trend. When a person is human and has human emotional reactions to life that are not pleasant society at large is quick to intentionally and unintentionally shame and guilt the person. This shame and guilt effect drives the person deeper into the harder emotions and further away from obtaining the desired pleasant lighter side of emotions. This results in depression, anxiety, isolation, substance use, and more as people turn inward to numb their “wrong” emotions. Can you blame them? After all, sharing their emotions just backfired.

3. Avoidance of Own Discomfort

Let’s go back to the person who felt counting the blessings and finding the silver lining would be the best remedy. Why did they do this? Well, in short, people are uncomfortable with other people’s emotions if they are not #PositiveVibes. I have an entire blog on this: THE ANXIETY OF EMOTIONS. Pay attention the next time someone shares not-so-positive emotions or stories with you. Pay attention to your thoughts and physical sensations. Does your stomach tense? Do your feet want to turn your body in the opposite direction and walk away? Is your mind racing for a way to ease the tension? Maybe you want to find that silver lining for them? Maybe you dish some sarcasm? Your body is giving you signals that you are uncomfortable in their emotional experiences. Society needs to do some self-reflection and think about why they need or desire to be surround by positive and happy people all the time and why they are willing to shame and invalidate fellow humans for simply being human.

Here is the secret: people are rarely looking for a solution, they just want to feel heard and understood.

4. Being Positive is not a Remedy

Even the most positive people in the world… the social media phenomenon who has 1.3M followers for being a champion of positivity….


They have negative emotions too! Yep, I know! It’s supposed to be a secret because the idea of the positive psychology trend is to achieve ultimate positivity and ward off all negative emotions. Emotions don’t work like this! Haven’t read my other blog yet?

Here it is again: Anxiety of Emotion

So I’m being a little blunt in this blog but it needs to be to the point because we’re in our sticky mess because of the sugar coating of euphoric optimism. Emotions are the human alert system that clues us in to our environment and experiences in life. Unpleasant emotions are not contagious! We can be there for another person who is not feeling the positive rays of sunshine and support them without being drug to the “dark side.”

Here is the secret: people are rarely looking for a solution, they just want to feel heard and understood.

One of the greatest gifts we can lend to our fellow humans is to listen and validate their feelings. If they say they feel sad, then they feel sad. If they feel mad, they feel mad. If they feel joy, they feel joy. Validation goes a long way to heal a broken heart. If all else fails, counselors are professional empathizers who are honored to listen to your hard story, to validate your emotional experiences, and to walk the journey with you as long as you need them. Your emotions and story is powerful. Sharing and feeling heard is more powerful.