Toxic positivity: 10 things you should never say to someone who is feeling down 

We all know about toxic negativity coming from those people who could bring down the happiness level of any situation.

Well, it’s probably surprising to think that positivity can be just as toxic. It simply depends on the state of the person you’re interacting with.

Anger, sadness, grief – these are reasonable and natural emotions that we all go through at certain times in our lives.

And rather than trying to minimize these emotions or whitewash over them, it’s so much more helpful to listen with an open heart and accept where the other person is coming from.

So here are 10 things you should never say to someone who is feeling down if you actually care about them and don’t want to make things even worse.

1) “Snap out of it.”

When you see someone you care about suffering from deep sadness or depression, this is exactly what you’d hope would happen.

Maybe they’ll just have a sudden Eureka moment and get over it with a snap of their fingers.

And sometimes this can really happen, but I’ll tell you something.

It never happens when someone just says to do it.

Depression doesn’t work this way. Whether temporary or clinical, depression is a state of being where a person experiences social, physical, and social changes, and it’s not something you can just wave a magic wand at to make it go away.

Anyone who can change their deep feelings this quickly is either a true master of their emotions or is quite possibly not human.

As for the rest of us, it takes time and effort to get out of negative feelings, not people telling us just immediately to forget about them.

2) “Turn that frown upside down.” 

“Just smile. That will make you feel better.”

These are things my mom would tell me when I was a kid, and I fell down or bumped my head.

But when my grandfather passed away, I don’t remember her taking her own advice.

There is real evidence that the simple act of smiling can actually produce or amplify feelings of happiness. The problem is that the effect is small, and it’s almost never enough to get someone out of a depression.

Trying to fool your mind with a fake it til you make it trick is simply not an effective way to make yourself feel better, so why would you expect it to work for someone who’s really feeling down?

Saying this to someone will more than likely just come across as glib, like you’re not taking their feelings seriously, and that’s definitely not something that’s going to help.

This is a prime example of toxic positivity at its most brutal.

3) “Look on the bright side.”

People love to say that every cloud has a silver lining or that every dog has its day, but the truth is that some experiences really don’t have a bright side.

Imagine if your friend’s parent, with whom they have an excellent and loving relationship, were to die. Would you actually tell them to look on the bright side?

In such a situation, there simply isn’t one.

Instead, your friend will have to struggle with the darkness of grief and come out the other side.

This may take a long, long time, depending on how serious the situation is, and it’s just not something that can be rushed. 

You can help by being there as a support, as a shoulder to cry on, and more often than not, that’s a much bigger help than any words could be.

4) “Don’t think about it.”

signs compassionate person Toxic positivity: 10 things you should never say to someone who is feeling down 

One of the symptoms of depression is rumination

This is when a person gets stuck in a cycle of thinking about a negative situation, just as a cow chews and chews on its cud.

They think about some mistake they made or a terrible situation they experienced, and thinking about it makes them feel worse. When they feel worse, they think again and again about the reason why, and it can really carry them off in a downward spiral.

If you suddenly come along and tell that person to simply stop thinking about it, this can come across as really dismissive of their situation.

After all, that person is kept awake at night thinking these thoughts, and they would love nothing more than to just stop thinking about them.

Helping someone get past the thing that’s bothering them is much harder than simply telling them to forget about it.

5) “It’s all in your head.”

This one actually baffles me.

On the one hand, there’s a wonderfully interesting debate about the nature of consciousness and how possible it is that your brain hallucinates your conscious reality.

On the other hand, how in the world is this an appropriate thing to bring up when someone you love is feeling down?

I certainly can’t see how telling them that they’ve imagined the cause of their own malaise is going to make things better.

When my long-term girlfriend broke up with me after 4 years, I was devastated. For me, the pain was palpable, and the loss was very much real. 

But I still had a friend tell me it was all in my head and that I should just get over it.

And guess what?

Yeah, we’re not friends anymore.

6) “You don’t seem sad.”

How is someone who’s feeling down supposed to act?

Should they bawl their eyes out, wear their pajamas all day, eat ice cream out of the tub, and listen to mournful music non-stop?

Sure, many of us do. But many more of us soldier on and try to continue life as usual, mostly because we just simply have to.

That doesn’t mean we’re not sad or feeling down.

Telling someone that they don’t look unhappy or don’t seem sad is a direct denial of their emotions. This validation is exactly what they don’t need because it tells them that what they’re feeling is wrong and that’s not going to make them feel anything but worse.

Instead, they’d probably very much like to hear an, “I didn’t know you were struggling. How can I help?”

7) “It’s not that bad.”

This is another way of saying it’s all in your head, although it’s arguably a lot worse.

You might have said this to someone to try to cheer them up. I know I have.

And it probably works for some things, like when they think they’ve really stuffed things up at work or if they’re having a tough spot in a relationship.

But when people are truly feeling down because of major difficulties in their lives, it really might be as bad as they think it is. 

Helping them to make an issue smaller by breaking it into chunks can be a very useful alternative to telling someone their woes aren’t as bad as they think.

You could say, “I know it’s bad, but if you take things one step at a time, I know you can get through it. I’m here to help.”

8) “It’s your own fault.”

newimagesize 2023 07 17T143506.646 Toxic positivity: 10 things you should never say to someone who is feeling down 

Ooooh, who would dare to say this to a struggling friend?

Before you think you’d never, consider how similar this is to saying, “If only you hadn’t…” or “You wouldn’t feel this way if you…”

While you might mean to be empowering and express that things are under their control, you can also see how this might come off as blaming the victim.

Rather than helping, that could lead to further demoralizing them.

If you’re trying to empower someone who is feeling down, you could instead simply tell them that you believe in them. 

9) “You’re only thinking of yourself.”

Sometimes people try to shame others out of their depression or downheartedness.

And I’m sorry to say, but this is something I heard a lot from my parents when I was younger.

I know now that they were trying to help me see the bigger picture and even recognize how my issues were negatively affecting the family.

But instead, this really came across as a brutal combination of victim blaming and an accusation of selfishness.

You can guess how much better it made me feel.

However well-intentioned you might be, this is something you should never say to someone who is feeling down.

10) “It could be worse.”

It’s true that no matter how bad things are, there’s always a way that they could be worse. It goes without saying – except it often doesn’t.

Is this supposed to make someone feel better about their troubles?

Putting things in perspective is one thing, but telling someone that their problems aren’t so bad is a way of belittling their feelings.

Remember that we all have different values, and something that might not seem so serious to you could spell real heartbreak for others.

Final thoughts

Remember that even though your intentions are good, you can definitely say the wrong thing to someone who’s struggling. You could be unwittingly putting out toxic positivity that makes them feel even worse.

Marcel Deer

Marcel Deer

Marcel is a journalist, gamer, and entrepreneur. When not obsessing over his man cave or the latest tech, he’s failing helplessly at training his obnoxious rescue dog ‘Boogies’.

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