The Difference Between Toxic Positivity and Healthy Optimism in Recovery

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The Difference Between Toxic Positivity and Healthy Optimism in Recovery

When a person is recovering from substance abuse or other mental health concerns, optimism can be a challenge. Staying optimistic in the face of triggers, cravings, and lifelong temptations of relapse can be difficult and, at times, feel forced. Yet, some believe that, in order to curb these uncomfortable feelings and emotions, they must always remain positive. Contrary to this, it is important to understand that too much positivity can be harmful, too. Thus, learning about the differences between toxic positivity and healthy optimism in recovery is necessary.

At Avalon Malibu, we understand how challenging it can be to maintain a positive outlook on recovery and sobriety. However, we also recognize how dangerous an obsession with positive thinking can be for the healing process. Individuals working to sustain their growth and healing must find a balance of realism and healthy optimism in recovery, allowing themselves to feel and accept every emotion that arises without resistance. Furthermore, our team of professionals will walk alongside those who may need support, encouragement, and guidance during this process. 

What Is Toxic Positivity?

Contrary to what some may believe, there are limits to healthy optimism in recovery. Surely, having an optimistic outlook on sobriety and recovery is necessary to secure ongoing motivation and commitment to the process. However, too much positivity or positive thinking can be toxic. As explained in the Journal of Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Mental Health:

Positive thinking has numerous good effects [feels good, nice, happy and satisfying], some side effects [wants more of it, at any cost, too good and addictive, need more and more positivity], certain adverse effects [jealousy and envy, animosity from others, does not feel good any longer] or no effects [develops tolerance to the positivity, if it continues for too long or too much]. Positive thinking can be toxic, with a desire to get it at any cost, or addictive, that a person misses it (withdrawal effect) and cannot live without it. 

Identifying Toxic Positivity

Meanwhile, identifying toxic positivity in oneself or others can be an even greater challenge. In recovery, toxic positivity may manifest as:

  • Avoiding the existence of problems
  • Always “looking on the bright side”
  • Minimizing other people’s feelings or experiences because they make someone else uncomfortable
  • Shaming others when they lack a positive attitude
  • Feeling guilty or shameful about being sad, angry, or disappointed

Why is toxic positivity harmful to those in recovery? Mainly, it is because toxic positivity often masks underlying problems. Oftentimes, those who try to instill unhealthy positivity in someone else who is trying to process or work through emotional challenges do so in an attempt to avoid confronting their own emotional distress. Toxic positivity challenges how necessary it is to stay mindful of fears, doubts, and other negative emotions. To best prevent future relapse, individuals must be willing to feel it all while also adopting healthy optimism in recovery. 

What Does Healthy Optimism in Recovery Look Like?

As mentioned previously, a balance of realism and healthy optimism in recovery is essential. While it may seem like these concepts oppose one another, they actually work together to inform acceptance of situations and experiences while also instilling hope for what’s to come.

Contrary to toxic positivity, healthy optimism in recovery does not require an individual to ignore or minimize the severity of challenges that are inevitable for healing. Rather, healthy optimism in recovery builds self-confidence and self-esteem, which is essential to effectively face such challenges and obstacles that stand in the way of lasting sobriety and recovery. 

Some examples of what healthy optimism in recovery can look like include:

  • Taking accountability and responsibility for mistakes made in the past and present
  • Engaging in positive affirmations about oneself and others
  • Processing feelings of guilt and shame with a peer or professional
  • Staying mindful and avoiding resistance when faced with negative emotions, triggers, and cravings
  • Setting aside time every day to curate new goals as well as identify realistic barriers that may stand in the way of achieving those goals
  • Supporting others who embrace a positive attitude, but also challenging them if they believe there is no unhealthy limit to positivity

The Benefits of Healthy Optimism in Recovery

Nevertheless, healthy optimism in recovery is important as it can bring about a wide range of benefits for those in recovery and sobriety. For instance, as stated in Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health: CP & EMH, “Optimism may significantly influence mental and physical well-being by the promotion of a healthy lifestyle as well as by adaptive behaviors and cognitive responses, associated with greater flexibility, problem-solving capacity and a more efficient elaboration of negative information.”

Additionally, hope and optimism go hand in hand. According to Frontiers in Psychology, “As a catalyst for positive change, hope promotes overall mental health and may help heal specific conditions, including severe mental illness, suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety and trauma-related disorders.”

Obtaining Healthy Optimism in Recovery at Avalon Malibu

At Avalon Malibu, we offer a wide range of treatment programs for those seeking healing from substance misuse and abuse, psychiatric and mental health issues, and co-occurring concerns. We focus on potential, not pathology, which highlights why we are so passionate about instilling health optimism in our clients. 

Recovery is a journey, not a destination. Nevertheless, learning how to replace toxic positivity with healthy optimism is a crucial step in the journey to lasting healing. We will ensure that all of our clients can effectively take this step to best prevent relapse and sustain healing throughout long-term recovery. 

Like anything in excess, even too much positivity can be harmful, especially for those in recovery from substance abuse and other mental health distress. This makes finding a balance between healthy optimism and realism essential for lasting recovery and sobriety. Individuals must not attempt to minimize or ignore the presence of challenges or negative emotions; rather, they must accept their existence and process them effectively to build resilience and self-esteem throughout long-term recovery. At Avalon Malibu, we help our clients replace toxic positivity with healthy optimism in treatment, utilizing holistic efforts like mindfulness to promote well-being in the present. Learn more about our treatment programs and services by calling (844) 857-5992 today. 

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