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.

  • Hi I'm new to the forum.  To be honest I have never heard of the phrase before.  I have to say that in the past I was guilty of encouraging my sister to be positive and focused when she was going thrpugh treatment.  We were very similar in our outlook.  Having been diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer in July 23. Operated on I  Aug 23 and then 6 rounds of chemo amd now on tablet chemo for  2 years, I find it all a bit bewildering.  I am a glass half full person and I always look for the positive in any situation.  However, we are all different and respond differently.  I can only speak from my own experience about what I have been through these last 6 months and the impact it has had on me and my loved ones.

  • ...carrying on from previous note.

  • The upshot is, positivity works for me.  I acknowledge when I'm having a bad day, when I haven't got the energy to do what I really want to be able to do to make me feel half my normal old self.  I rest.  My energy and positive thoughts come back and I carry on.  I feel lucky tjat I have very supportive family, friends etc who let me be me and let me acknowledge things.  As I said we are all different we all have different coping mechanisms.  It helps me if friends family etc support  me by encouraging positivity.  Its still early in my journey with cancer, let's hope I can continue.  No right or wrong with this.

  • I do find it very unhelpful when in my case a family member told me about a friend of his who has bone cancer and is very upbeat about his future. Seemingly this friend of his can still play tennis. My husband has prostate cancer which has spread to his bones and I am doing my best to keep my head above water. My husband gets out of breath just tying his shoe laces! People have no idea even though they think they are giving you hope they don’t realise the reality that everyone’s situation is completely different.

  • Indeed. After Kind Charles was diagnosed Good Morning Britain was interviewing one of his former press secretaries or someone like that. She said she loved her job so much that when she was diagnosed with breast cancer she continued working. 
    I was so angry listening to this. It’s irresponsible of the media pedalling these stories. Some people struggle to get out of bed when undergoing cancer treatment let alone go to work!