Psychotherapist Goodman says people can be deeply impacted when you trivialize their feeling with throwaway 'positive' phrases.
When you're depressed and in a spiral, the last thing you want to hear from someone is "be happy." While many just want to help, saying similar things don't really help. Of course, you want to "be happy" but the point is that you can't and hence your state of mind. Sending positive quotes and uplifting mantras helps no one and can often be toxic, as it implies you're incapable of doing an apparently easy thing — to be positive. Psychotherapist Whitney Hawkins Goodman, LMFT, owner of The Collaborative Counseling Center, pointed out that while the person was trying to be helpful, there is a huge difference between giving someone ‘validation and hope’ and ‘toxic positivity.’
Goodman shared examples of the difference in a chart on her Instagram handle @sitwithwhit. Goodman said the chart would educate people on what not to say while trying to help their loved ones. “I’ve realized people HATE the word toxic. I hear ya’ll. Got a lot of comments on “never give up.” Decided to keep it. There are relationships, life goals, plans, and situations that is OK to give up on. Not everything needs to result in completion. Sometimes it is safer to give up. We owe each other the space to discuss the options,” said Goodman before asking her followers of the positive sayings that they thought were totally dismissive. She explained that she decided to do the chart after coming across ‘toxic positivity’ sayings on Pinterest. While they seemed harmless, they could have a negative impact on someone going through hard times.
When one tries to simplify the problem and trivialize the issue at hand, it only makes the affected person feel worse. "When you tell someone to just shake off their depression, you trivialize their condition and deny their pain," said Debbie Plotnick, the vice president for mental health and systems advocacy at Mental Health America, according to Healthy.com. Plotnick added that saying things like "cheer up," makes it sound like they are not choosing to 'cheer up', which obviously isn't the case. According to Plotnick, the best way to support someone going through a hard time is to offer help: “I’m sorry you’re not feeling well. Is there anything I can do to help?” Plotnick said it's important to try to relate to their problems as opposed to just telling them that it's all in their head. “If someone is feeling unwell in some way, it is within their person, not just their head,” said Plotnick.
"Don't worry, you'll be fine" is one of the most common phrases we use but Goodman says it might not be the best thing to do. "It’s a phrase that just flies out of your mouth. For me, it’s usually when I am distracted or just don’t have the bandwidth to handle it. Instead of setting a boundary or letting someone know, I try to just throw this out quickly. “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine” usually translates to…
“I know you’ll be fine so let’s not talk about it” .
“I know you’ll be fine so let’s not take the time to discuss your feelings” .
“I know you’ll be fine so let’s talk about me instead” .
“I can’t even face the fact that you might not be fine, so let’s just skip over that.” posted Goodman.
"If someone is telling you they’re scared and you have the capacity to listen, do it. Ask questions. Get curious. If someone is telling you how they feel and you don’t have the space, don’t leave them wondering. Tell them. Say that you can’t take this on right now. “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine” is one of the reasons I don’t reach out for help when I need it. Because I know I’ll be fine and I don’t want to bother anyone until I am fine. This response keeps my walls up or puts them up if they have come down at any point," said Goodman.