Toxic Positivity - Part Two

4 minute read time.
Toxic Positivity - Part Two

Last year, we published a blog on “toxic positivity”, including guidance on navigating conversations about cancer. The blog resonated with numerous Community members, prompting some to share their experiences dealing with toxic positivity in the comments. We wanted to share some of those insightful comments with you here, as well as some helpful links if you have been struggling with how to navigate conversations with family and friends. 

If you haven’t come across the concept of “toxic positivity” before, you can read the original blog by clicking here.

Dealing with toxic positivity

“Wow, I’m so happy to read this is a thing. I try really hard to be positive and occasionally feel angry or upset. I can’t believe the number of times I’ve been told I’ll be okay because I’m so positive, or they know someone who was given 2 years to live and is still here 18 years later!”

“I dislike battle, warrior, brave language and being told to stay positive. It’s so difficult to stay upbeat all the time and I think it’s ok to have days when you don’t cope as well. I like to think that I have stayed realistic.”

“I am guilty of trying to soften the blow, so some of the toxic positivity comes from me. I find it difficult to say how I feel both physically and mentally and my husband tells me I'm too upbeat. Of course, he sees all my highs and lows. Keeping a balance is difficult but I am trying.”

“Personally I do believe that a positive attitude and mindset is a factor in dealing with cancer, but the sweeping “you'll be fine, you're so positive” platitudes can be so very frustrating, especially for me if they landed when I was having a bad day or had some disappointing news.” 

“What a brilliant article! I've never heard the phrase toxic positivity but how true it is. Many people have said to me, "I know someone with cancer who is still here years later". This is not helpful - everyone is different. Also, I never talk about battles - it's not a war. I want a peaceful and happy time doing what I want to do when I can and being kind to myself when I can't do things.”

“I was guilty of this recently, despite having a cancer diagnosis myself. My younger sister responded really badly saying, ‘Well I guess when I'm dying, it will be my fault for not being positive enough, ouch.”

Being honest with those you trust

Expressing our true feelings can be tough at times. Choosing people we trust to be honest and vulnerable with, can make a significant difference.

A member commented about their frustration with people being overly positive.

“I am also struggling with the positivity of those around me. It’s probably my fault for putting a brave face on, following my diagnosis. I wanted to reassure my friends and family that I was okay, but now I find that every time I try to express any worries or fear, I get shut down. I’m fed up with being told how amazing I am!” 

Two days later, the member returned to share the news about opening up to their sister.

“After reading the article, and realising it was a thing, I finally did find the courage to, very gently, tell my sister that relentless positivity was making it very difficult for me to express my fears and worries. She completely understood, so hopefully I will be able to be more honest going forward.”

Another member simply requested that their friends and family stop using certain words with them.

“I have banned anyone from telling me I am 'brave'.”

Talking about your cancer 

It can be tricky talking to people about your cancer diagnosis and cancer treatment. How people react when you tell them about the cancer may depend on different things. Many people have no experience talking to or supporting someone with cancer.

Follow the links below for more information and practical tips:

Who can you talk to?

Think about who you usually talk with about important issues or difficult problems. This is probably the best person to talk to. This may be your partner, your closest friend, your eldest child, another family member, a work colleague, a counsellor or a religious leader. It may be somebody who is going through or has been through a similar experience.

Sometimes it is easier to talk with someone you do not know. You may feel less pressure to act a certain way. You may also feel safe knowing that they will not share the conversation with your friends or family.

If you feel this way, you could:

Have you experienced toxic positivity?

Your voice matters in our Community. If you've faced challenges navigating positivity, please feel free to share your experience in the comments below.

  • I am not having cancer treatment myself, but rather caring for a relative who is.

    I think they are clinging on to toxic positivity themselves, which has led to burying their head in the ground, trying to ignore the serious side effects of treatment and pushing themselves too far (to the point they decided to drive and got into an accident, luckily they are fine).

    I have tried to provide words of caution, but this has led to conflict. I think I'm being consider an unhelpful pessimist. I'm not getting the balance right when I'm just trying to help.

  • Hi  

    I'm Steph, part of the Community team. Thank you for commenting on Dylan's blog although I am sorry for everything that you're going through with your relative. 

    Everyone is different in the way that they prefer to be supported and it can be hard not to beat yourself up when you're not sure if you're getting the balance right. It sounds like you are doing your best for them, but it can't be easy when there's conflict. Please do make sure you have support in place for yourself too.

    I hope you're finding it helpful to be able to talk things through with members in the head and neck cancer forum. You might also find it helpful to talk to people in the Carers only forum.

    Our information about supporting a loved one with cancer might also be helpful to have a read through when you have a quiet moment. Our Support Line teams are here for you if you'd like to have a chat with someone who is there to listen. 

    Our Support Line teams are available 7 days a week, 8am-8pm on freephone 0808 808 00 00email or live webchat.

    Please do let us know if you have any questions or need further support with anything at all. I hope the Community and Macmillan show you that you don’t need to go through anything alone.

  • I love this thread. I am a very positive person by nature and will look on the bright side of things. However what can frustrates me is when people shove their positivity at me and I found it very upsetting and made me want to shut down.The other thing that really got to me was people minimising the effects of cancer like losing my hair. I would much prefer honesty. Funny that is why kids are great they just say it like it is. When I told my daughter the news she said oh how awful it will be to lose your hair. I much preferred her attitude as it’s real. 

  • Well my husband who has relapsed 3 times with Hodgkins always says about this. Hes told hes brave. And he always says “no. I have no choice” And for me it deives me crazy. Positive vibes. Gratitude. Yay stay positive. I feel like acreaming and saying actually its absolutely crap so can we just stop with this positivity! Ive been at my lowest with hubby and we may get sent things like “keep your chin up”. It just drives us mental. Toxic positivity ia defo out there and i think some people

  • I’m sick of the ‘brave’ and fighting BS about cancer! The inference being that, should someone sadly die because their cancer wasn’t treatable that it’s their own fault for not fighting hard enough! My cancer can’t be operated on. I’m not ‘brave’ or ‘tough’ I’m not ‘fighting’, however, on the other hand, I’m not morose or self-pitying. I’m simply dealing with a situation that is out of my hands, and trying to enjoy my life, one day at a time, to the best of my ability!