Patient Referral

The Danger of Toxic Positivity in Serious Illness Support

toxic positivity

We live in a world that values positivity and optimism. While these qualities can be beneficial, toxic positivity can have negative consequences – especially for those dealing with serious illness. Toxic positivity is the idea that individuals should only focus on positive emotions and avoid negative emotions at all costs. This mentality can be harmful, particularly for those with serious illnesses.

toxic positivity caregivers

How Toxic Positivity Affects Patients with Serious Illnesses 

Toxic positivity can be harmful to patients who may feel pressured to always stay optimistic, even when they are facing difficult and challenging circumstances. Let’s explore some of the ways toxic positivity can affect patients facing serious illness.

Invalidation of Feelings

When people with serious illnesses are told to "think positive," it can have the effect of invalidating their feelings. It is common for people with serious illnesses to experience negative emotions such as fear, sadness, and anger. Telling them to "just be positive" can dismiss these emotions and make them feel like their feelings are not valid or important. This can lead to feelings of isolation and detachment, which can make the illness feel even more overwhelming.

Pressure to Be Positive

Toxic positivity can also create a sense of pressure on patients with serious illnesses to maintain a positive attitude at all times. This pressure can make them feel like they are failing if they are not constantly upbeat and optimistic. In addition, constantly focusing on being positive can be exhausting and unrealistic, which can lead to burnout and emotional exhaustion.

Minimization of Illness

Another way toxic positivity affects patients with serious illnesses is by minimizing the severity of their illness. By suggesting that positivity alone can cure or alleviate the symptoms of a serious illness, the reality of the patient's condition can be trivialized. This can lead to patients feeling like they are not being taken seriously or that their illness is not being acknowledged. This can be especially harmful in cases where a patient's condition is not improving, as it can make them feel like they are failing to "get better" because they are not positive enough.

Lack of Empathy

Toxic positivity can also create a lack of empathy towards patients with serious illnesses. People who are constantly trying to maintain a positive attitude may not fully understand the pain and suffering of someone with a serious illness. This lack of empathy can cause patients to feel unsupported and isolated, which can be detrimental to their mental and emotional well-being.

Lack of Necessary Care

When a patient or their caregiver feels pressure to focus on the positive, they may turn a blind eye to the signs that additional care and support is needed. By not taking advantage of the right care at the right time, caregivers can become overwhelmed and patient care can suffer.

While positivity and optimism are valuable qualities, they can become toxic when they are used to invalidate, pressure, or minimize the experiences of patients with serious illnesses. It is important to recognize and acknowledge the full range of emotions that patients with serious illnesses may experience and provide them with the space and support to express those feelings. By doing so, we can create a more empathetic and supportive environment that values the complex emotional experiences of those with serious illnesses and ensures they receive the care and support they need.

If you or a loved one are dealing with a serious illness, it is important to seek out resources and support that acknowledge the full range of emotions that may arise during this difficult time.

Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care provides support to terminally ill patients and their families. To learn more about our services, please call 1-888-564-3405.


If you found this information helpful, please share it with your network and community.
Copyright © 2023 Crossroads Hospice. All rights reserved. 

Related Content
Heart Icon

Want to give back?