Toxic Positivity and Addiction Recovery
Concepts like positivity and self-determination are so embedded in our culture that it’s difficult to fathom how positive thinking could be harmful. However, this simplistic approach could backfire for those suffering from a substance use disorder and may even prove to be toxic. Toxic positivity and addiction recovery can be avoided only when individuals can embrace their entire emotional spectrum and examine the parts of their lives that may not be so sunny.
What is Toxic Positivity?
The construct of positivity is often introduced in recovery programs to highlight a particular coping mechanism that allows individuals to see their situation from a different perspective. On the other hand, toxic positivity invalidates an individual’s hardship or personal pain by issuing orders to push away negative thoughts and emotions. Some examples of toxic statements include:
- “It will all work out in the end.”
- “Just try to stay positive.”
- “It could be worse.”
- “Everything happens for a reason.”
While the above sentences may seem innocuous, they communicate that:
- It’s not okay to feel anything other than happy emotions.
- If you feel troubled, anxious, or depressed, it’s not that big of a deal.
- You should be able to overcome any negative thoughts or feelings readily.
How Toxic Positivity Can Harm Efforts at Addiction Recovery
Toxic positivity can act as an impediment to seeking addiction recovery. It may thwart efforts to do the kind of work that leads to long-term sobriety.
Continued after video:
Toxic Positivity May Prevent an Individual From Seeking Treatment
When individuals struggling with a substance use disorder hear that positive thinking can solve their problems, they’re naturally going to feel dejected when they’re unable to make this advice work for themselves. They receive the message that their sadness, depression, anxiety, and fear are not legitimate emotions. At the same time, they feel ashamed that they’re not strong enough to handle life’s pressures.
Not only do these individuals learn that the real work of recovery isn’t necessary, but when they fail to overcome their problems using change-your-mind-change-your-life platitudes, they’re likely to sink even deeper and become hopeless. They may come to believe that they’re weak or defective because they should be able to dig themselves out of the depths on their own, but they can’t.
During Treatment, Toxic Positivity Can Obstruct the Recovery Process
For addiction recovery programs to be effective, individuals must examine the root causes of their addiction. Confronting painful experiences and emotions is necessary for learning how to cope after leaving a rehab program’s inclusiveness and safety. If individuals believe that suppressing negative emotions is the only way to succeed, they’ll be kept from discovering the tools that will actually lead to a successful recovery.
Suppressing emotions can also lead to even more stress and harm. One study showed that attempting to ignore negative thoughts actually made individuals more obsessed or preoccupied with what they’re trying to push away.  Further research pointed to worsening mental health when people suppress negative or uncomfortable emotions. Avoiding authentic feelings can lead to increased anxiety, depression, and poor sleep. 
Ultimately, declining mental and physical health can exacerbate a substance use disorder. Unless individuals can confront and process their genuine emotions, they will be unable to recover fully.
Recognizing the Battle Between Toxic Positivity and Addiction Recovery
Recovering from a substance use disorder requires work. Individuals need to discover the root causes of their addiction, or they won’t be able to learn how to manage it in the long term. Toxic positivity and addiction recovery are a complete mismatch. Statements that ignore the need to look beyond a positive outlook can actively harm someone who needs help.
The staff at Desert Cove Recovery provides a warm and inclusive environment for those struggling with a substance use disorder. During treatment, individuals do the work necessary that leads to a full recovery and helps prevent relapse.
If you or someone you care about is struggling, please get in touch with a member of our staff. Your thoughts and emotions are valid, and we’ll be able to put you on the path to sobriety.
Sources: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3612492/  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9103721/