Log in or Register to participate in these discussions

Toxic Positivity

Toxic Positivity

Posted by Kims1961 on Sep 20, 2020 4:39 pm

Hello all!

Recently i was present during a conversation with a friend who was just newly diagnosed with breast cancer. She expressed that she was feeling overwhelmed by the number of people who told her to be grateful that it wasn't stage IV, or stay positive , you're a fighter....etc etc. One of our other friends mentioned this poster she had seen about what you can say instead....I've attached it below.

Often people who are using toxic positivity, aren't meaning to be shutting down a conversation, they just don't know what to say. 

Take a look at other ways to offer hope and validation.

Enjoy the day!  kim

Attached files
Her2+, ER+ Bilateral mastectomy in 2017, followed by chemo and radiation. Mack and Hannah's mom

Re: Toxic Positivity

Posted by WestCoastSailor on Sep 20, 2020 8:20 pm


Thanks for this. The working title on my last blog post was "Toxic Positivity" because someone had accused me of it. I felt horribly guilty about it. I have been blessed in my journey and I talk about it. But I also talk about the reality of an "expiry date" pretty openly. Reading the pdf helped me recognize that I do understand the difference between support and "validation and hope." I was feeling like it was my enthusiasm for life that was toxic. I think though that honesty and authenticity are important for credibility.

One of the things I realized is that sometimes it plain doesn't matter what you say, some people aren't going to hear it. As much of a wordsmith and word lover I am, there are some dogs that just don't hunt. Comedians will tell you that timing is everything. In dealing with bad news, I suspect this is also true. Sometimes space and silence really are the best thing. Waiting for the lull in the storm of conversations, pausing before speaking, are all skills that are often underused. I have had more meaningful conversations two or three days after a funeral than standing in the condolence line, to use a bold example.

I wonder too if we don't use these cliches sometimes because we don't want to expend the energy to open the doors to conversation. That all the phrases that are toxic are short whereas the validations ones are longer and have several elements in them, indicates that it might take work to formulate them. It isn't easy to be a friend or even a listening ear. And sometimes despite our best efforts we are going to say the wrong thing. Apologizing and trying to find the right words is how we restore these broken relationships.

Thanks for helping me think these things through a bit.

My story: http://journey.anguspratt.ca

Re: Toxic Positivity

Posted by Laika57 on Sep 20, 2020 11:33 pm

IDK, this makes me wonder at what point people get told they're saying the wrong thing too much, so they end up joining the camp that disappears until your treatment is over...
i mean, yeah, some of these things have merit, but i personally have a hard enough time talking to people, that i find it hard enough to say anything, let alone the currently deemed appropriate thing at the time.
Keep telling me I'm doing it wrong, and i go back to talking to my dog instead. 🤷‍♀️
and no, i wasn't socialized much as a kid.
on the other hand, only if i think about it do i come up with the positive sht that i think people are expected to say. More often "oh sht" is my normal response. Though apparently that ain't proper anymore either...
Have you hugged your dog today?

Re: Toxic Positivity

Posted by Lacey_Moderator on Sep 21, 2020 11:28 am

This is a great share Kims1961‍ - Thank you!

Adding the attachment for people who may not be able to open it!


Re: Toxic Positivity

Posted by Lacey_Moderator on Sep 22, 2020 1:17 pm


You bring up some great points! 

It is difficult to know what to say in a lot of cases and we all respond to things differently. I think people often do shut down for fear of saying the wrong thing. 

I appreciate the opportunity to educated myself with tools like these and hear from folks about what works best for them. At the end of the day I think being authentic and genuine is the best thing you can do.

I always like hearing your perspective. Thanks for sharing


Re: Toxic Positivity

Posted by Kims1961 on Sep 23, 2020 9:57 am

Laika57‍ Boy...do i ever hear you.  I was on a Board of Directors at a local women’s resource centre and the language kept changing - domestic violence, women abuse,etc etc.  In there attempt to deal with a very important issue - it was also shutting down women on the board , for fear we used the wrong term.

Finally, we had a good conversation about using ways to help us reflect on our language, so we don’t offend, but also understand that it is often the intent behind the language that is important. We do the best we can to help others.

I liked the idea of the chart in giving some suggestions of other language to use. I often don’t know what to say - so I’m going to practice more open ended questions. I used to say things that were “positive” when in fact, its ok to say...oh sh$t!  You probably have the best response of all - good instincts!  That says it all, we don’t have to offer suggestions of how to survive cancer - just  “ oh, sh#T!”.

I’ve also had many conversations with my dog - she agrees with everything I say - particularly if i use the word “treat” or “walk”!

Thank you for your response ...Kim
Her2+, ER+ Bilateral mastectomy in 2017, followed by chemo and radiation. Mack and Hannah's mom

Re: Toxic Positivity

Posted by CentralAB on Sep 23, 2020 12:32 pm

I appreciate all the responses here, good food for thought. I love the idea of "talking to the dog, instead!" Thats actually therapeutic!

If I may be open and honest about the pdf that was supplied for this topic, Id like to comment on the standard practice of saying "its normal to...."  I have tried to put my finger on why my hair bristles when someone tells me that what I am going through is "normal." I am not sure I can yet give a definitive answer. But usually the first thing that happens is I go "Oh, well are they saying I wasnt "normal" before?" For me, as a caregiver, that doesn't validate much. It feels like I am being judged, assessed, etc. I would much rather hear someone wishing to sympathize or to identify with what I am going through, by simply finding out, instead of telling me. The only way to do that is by asking a question. Or by "active listening." For my personal grief journey, for one example, it isnt "normal" that I am going through this, or reacting like this, because I never would "normally" act like that. Know what I mean? My preference is to find out how the person is doing, rather than me telling them how they are doing.

I think its ok to say something about "normal" as long as one carefully measures how they do it, and we are genuinely trying to identify with the person. Some people do need to hear that.
________________ "there is always a little Light"

Re: Toxic Positivity

Posted by Elsie13 on Sep 24, 2020 2:57 pm

This is such an interesting topic. Thanks for that chart, Kims1961‍ , there are some very good suggestions there.  

I'm a big fan of science fiction stories.  It seems to me, that one day, real scientists here on earth will be programming androids, robots/medical robots, to say the 'right thing' to cancer patients. That's rather a creepy thought, except well, you might say that we humans are pre-programmed by our parents, our community, our education, etc. I've heard that what we learn, what we hear, in the first 8 years or so of life, sticks with us. So people who have chosen atheism, for example, will sometimes say "Oh my god," - the words just come out!
In 2016: diagnosed with stage 2 ovarian cancer. Treatment: hysterectomy, chemo, radiation. Afterwards: No Evidence of Disease!

Re: Toxic Positivity

Posted by Elsie13 on Sep 24, 2020 3:01 pm

Laika57‍  I think "Oh sht," can sometimes be the perfect response. It's a genuine, uncensored, spur of the moment reply. 
In 2016: diagnosed with stage 2 ovarian cancer. Treatment: hysterectomy, chemo, radiation. Afterwards: No Evidence of Disease!

Re: Toxic Positivity

Posted by Laika57 on Sep 24, 2020 3:36 pm

Technical issues yesterday, but better late than never...

CentralAB‍ yeah, being told an emotional reaction is "normal" may just lead to a hospital shooting one day. I understand what they mean to say, but when you're in that kind of turmoil, it is anything but normal to you. I was debating what i would deem appropriate to say instead of "that's a normal reaction" and came up with "this kind of reaction is to be expected." Then the devil on my shoulder came up with a bunch of ways to misinterpret that statement as well 🤷‍♀️

funny though, the more i watch the oco webinars on caregiving and nonviolent communication, i notice when people use those strategies on me. Apparently medical professionals have coaching in how to deal with irrational people. Not quite up to the maneuvering that social workers manage, but pretty effective... 
Have you hugged your dog today?

Re: Toxic Positivity

Posted by SpeedyStill on Sep 28, 2020 2:20 pm

I think here there is a correlation between this and proper treatment of people
"You never attack the person you deal with the behaviour"
These words are going after the person and would discourage them. It would be better to use language that is more helpful.
"You'll get over it" Time heals everything. Some people never get over it. Most of us carry on with our lives but our minds still have the experience, the trauma stored in our memory banks.
"Just be positive"
"Stop being so negative"
"Find the good in everything"
As if we have a switch inside our head that can automatically change how we feel and look at "Everything"?????
If we are not feeling well or uncomfortable with our situation then listen to me and give me some comfort so I will have a chance to feel better about where I am in life.
Motivation does not come from pointing out something that is going to push me further into myself.
"Just be happy"
Give me a break, there are no words or medication that can automatically make me feel happy. Happiness come from within therfore we have to be in a happy place and maybe we are not.
"Never give up"
I am guilty, I use this probably more than I should. I do find that if I keep pushing myself forward I will end up in tomorrow. 
There does come a time when we have to give in to our situation and make difficult choices about our life.
Mine right now is facing the situation that I will have to find an assisted living situation that is affordable but comforable.
There are of course other more serious decisions that other people need to make.
Good music especially the lyrics and or melody that is soothing and familiar to us however you may find new music that does the same, comedy and you can add your own.
We cannot be automatically happy but we can investigate those things that have made us happy in the past and maybe they will help.
I had these thoughts and had to get them out.
We do not need to be perfect and get everything right in our posts we just have to be ourselves reaching out to be there for the people who need us.
I  would be happy with someone just holding my hand with compassionate eyes and I would not care what they said to me. I just know that they care.

Re: Toxic Positivity

Posted by Elsie13 on Sep 29, 2020 10:26 pm

SpeedyStill‍ , looking for assisted living, does that involve being put on a waiting list? And you never know when your name will come up?  I hope things go smoothly!
In 2016: diagnosed with stage 2 ovarian cancer. Treatment: hysterectomy, chemo, radiation. Afterwards: No Evidence of Disease!

Re: Toxic Positivity

Posted by SpeedyStill on Oct 1, 2020 12:25 pm

I have been trying for awhile to get help from my family in regards to my future but they do not seem to be prepared to help, at least not right now.
I am not at that point right now but I know that it is not far off. November I have a Doctors appointment to help. I am not sure whether it will be a geriatric assessment or not. It does have me concerned.
I am hoping that I will get an indication if I can get help to stay in the Condo as long as I can.
This is the only home I have left.
Yes waiting lists are long and I probably wouldn't get in one for a year or even more.
Thank you for your concern

Re: Toxic Positivity

Posted by RBION on Oct 2, 2020 9:53 am

“Often people who are using toxic positivity, aren't meaning to be shutting down a conversation, they just don't know what to say. “ Kims1961

Does anyone have tips on how to have those conversations with our well-meaning supporters, to help them choose different (better?) ways to communicate their positive thoughts?   As a new caregiver, anyone who tries to send me unicorns farting rainbows quickly becomes someone I avoid.  I shutdown as their words make me angry. I’d like to keep those paths open.  A good friend of mine told me to suck it up but I think there’s a better way that will balance my needs with the needs of my loving supporters.

Re: Toxic Positivity

Posted by Lacey_Moderator on Oct 2, 2020 11:21 am


Great question. It's true so often people really don't know what to say and fear saying the wrong thing. Helping people understand what works for us is important.

I love this video-Maybe you could share it with your support network/friends?

I also like this pamphlet: Listen first and 9 other ways to support someone with cancer 

Check this out too: How can you help someone with cancer

Maybe there is a way you can share these resources so they get seen :)


Re: Toxic Positivity

Posted by SpeedyStill on Oct 2, 2020 7:21 pm

Loved the video with cartoon characters, they are great learning tools. The audience is captivated by the chacacters and hopefully absorbs the message.
Printed off Listen First, haven't read it yet but the title makes sense. Still stuck on the paper for this many pages.
Listen first is a lot easier when you are posting, e-mailing, texting, etc.
I called up a neighbor today because I knew she was going in for a biopsy early next week. She thought it would be a wait but she got in right away.
This tells me that they want to rule out Cancer. She understandably is worried about the same thing.
I was good, I listened but I had to bite my tongue, I called for her story not mine.
I am a good enough communicator to include dead spots.
You, I am sure know dead spots is when you just stop talking and listen until the other person speaks.
I did say "I hope that I have said the right things".
She said, maybe in kindness "You are doing ok so far"
Shortly after that we concluded our conversation.
I will check back with her nexk week after she has had time to settle down.
Learning as I go and I still have a lot left to learn.
Thank you for helping