Positivity or optimism is usually a desirable trait in the professional workplace. After all, who likes working with someone who's constantly negative?
However, overly-positive people can also allow your optimism to cloud your judgment or even deny existing problems. According to psychologist Robyn Gobyn, the author of The Doing My Work Therapy Journal, this is called toxic positivity.
It's not about having an optimistic or pessimistic view, she said, it's more important to look at life and the world "through clear-colored glasses." Toxic positivity resulting in denial is harmful to relationships at work.
For example, optimism can also mean expecting the best from others which may result in disappointment if they fail. Being unrealistically optimistic could also mean one is being repeatedly blindsided by outcomes, said consultant and organizational psychologist David Shar. If expectations and reality are always mismatching, optimistic people may not be ready for negative consequences and resort to denial - that's when you've crossed the line, he said.
One universal example during this pandemic, said Shar, is believing that Covid-19 may be over next week. When overly positive people are choosing denial over happy outcomes, they may need to reprocess facts.
An earlier study on unrealistic optimism, or what the authors call positive illusions, said that one indicator of toxic positivity is if they update their beliefs based on new information. "It is sometimes claimed that positive illusions generally, and unrealistic optimism specifically, are systematic tendencies to form beliefs that are biased, and often false," they wrote. However, they did acknowledge that generally, optimism does contribute to better mental and physical health.
Therapist Lauren Cook, who wrote Name Your Story: How to Talk Openly About Mental Health while Embracing Wellness, said that toxic positivity will affect your team at work. An overly-optimistic attitude can be a barrier to your success and the team you lead by invalidating the emotions or challenges of people by telling them everything is going to be fine which is also known as gaslighting.
Read Also: Pessimists vs. Optimists, Who's Healthier?
Overcoming Unrealistic Optimism
Lauren's book also talks about prioritizing self-care by having a proactive stance instead of an unrealistic optimistic one. Formerly overly-optimistic herself, researching about happiness made her realize that people are happier and process their emotions better when they live authentically.
Perhaps the reason why many of us have the harmful tendency to numb our pain is "because we're not learning how to handle difficult, painful emotions." Learning to properly deal with negativity is just as important as being happy, said Lauren.
Gobyn said that people ought to realize the "fullness of their potential and to notice that, yes, this is a challenging moment. And yes, I'm having difficult emotions right now. And also, I can do hard things." Even digging into the past with a realistic mindset will help remind you of the challenges you've overcome and even provide wisdom when you encounter similar circumstances again.
It's also important to have friends that have a more objective or different outlook on life to help you with your blindsides. "If you know that you tend to be overly optimistic," said Shar, have someone who is a realist or more critical to challenge and help you.
Check out more news and information on Psychology on Science Times.