Join our FREE live Masterclass: Repairing with Your Child After You Lose Your Cool
Register Here!
Join our FREE live Masterclass: Repairing with Your Child After You Lose Your Cool
Register Here!

February 20, 2024

November 2, 2022

How To Deal With Toxic Positivity As a Mom: What To Do When Someone Invalidates Your Feelings

E:
145
with
Whitney Goodman
Marriage and Family Therapist

What You'll Learn

  • What Toxic Positivity Is (and How It Gets Directed at Moms)
  • The Outcome of Toxic Positivity
  • The Relationship Between Religion and Toxic Positivity
  • How to Deal With Toxic Positivity In Our Lives
  • How to Avoid Engaging In Toxic Positivity

Enjoy every moment. Be grateful you have a healthy baby. Everything happens for a reason. Moms often get bombarded with these messages, being told they should be happy and positive all the time. But how do you deal with this toxic positivity? 

Today, I’m joined by marriage and family therapist Whitney Goodman, author of Toxic Positivity: Keeping It Real In a World Obsessed With Being Happy. We’re discussing what toxic positivity is, how to deal with toxic positivity as a mom, and better ways to offer support than emphasizing artificial happiness.

Unhelpful Messages of Positivity 

I grew up in a very religious household. In our community, we were expected to be positive and happy. Questioning, doubting, or struggling were considered signs of a lack of faith. 

Years later, when I became a mom, I began encountering that same level of emphasis on happiness. As I struggled to find my footing as a mom (coping with undiagnosed postpartum depression at the time), I reached out to people in my life for support. 

But the messages I received were far from helpful. I was told that I should just be grateful for having healthy children. I was told that motherhood should be the happiest time of my life. I was told that I should just appreciate my role as a mom. 

I was told that motherhood should be the happiest time of my life.

The more that I heard these responses, the more I withdrew. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t allowed to struggle in my role, to feel complex feelings, and still love my children and love being a mom. 

This is something I coped with for a long time. So when Whitney went viral for a post about toxic positivity, it resonated with me right away. 

What I had encountered—what so many of my mom clients encounter—was an invalidation of emotion and a push for happiness, no matter what the circumstances were. 

I was thrilled to get the chance to chat with Whitney about toxic positivity as it relates to motherhood, and how to deal with toxic positivity when we encounter it. 

What Toxic Positivity Is (and How It Gets Directed at Moms)

Whitney first became fascinated with the idea of toxic positivity when working with chronically ill patients. There was a belief that if they were going to beat their conditions, they had to be positive. But she felt like this was a very tall order for those who were suffering, placing an enormous amount of undue pressure on them to compartmentalize their grief. 

She defines toxic positivity as the unrelenting pressure to be happy and positive all the time, and to pursue positivity no matter the circumstances. It often feels like somebody offering a very simple solution for potentially complex problems they know nothing about. 

Toxic positivity is often well-intentioned. When people talk to us about a problem, it can feel uncomfortable. We sometimes want to provide a solution rather than sitting with that discomfort. 

But these “solutions” invalidate feelings and leave us feeling alone and unseen. 

I recently watched an episode of The Kardashians where Khloe was undergoing an embryo transfer. Everybody around her kept saying things like: 

“Oh, babies are such a blessing!” 

“You should be so excited!”

“God has a plan.” 

The entire time, I was cringing, realizing how invalidating that must have been for her. 

Behind closed doors, I see this happen to my clients so often. When we’re dealing with significant changes in our lives, like becoming moms, we experience a whole spectrum of emotions—with moments of dread and ambivalence along with times of excitement and joy. 

The idea that we should just be happy all the time is unrealistic, and it leaves us feeling shame for having complicated emotions. Motherhood isn’t all a beautiful blessing. Many aspects of it can also be very hard. We should be able to experience a range of human emotions. 

The Outcome of Toxic Positivity

The ultimate downside of toxic positivity is that it makes us feel like our feelings are wrong. It creates shame around our emotions. This can cause us to want to hide what we’re going through, leading to isolation

When we don’t feel like the people in our lives are truly interested in what we’re going through, it makes us feel like we have nobody to turn to. 

Whitney also experienced toxic positivity when she was battling postpartum depression. People would ask her, “Isn’t this just the best thing in the world?” This left her feeling ashamed when she was struggling. 

There were many moments that I loved, but there were also moments that I despised.

I remember feeling the same way. We are so pressured to enjoy every moment, told that the postpartum period is supposed to be such a beautiful time with our baby. There were many moments that I loved, but there were also moments that I despised—moments where I felt completely overwhelmed. 

We’re allowed to have ambivalence about our role. That doesn’t invalidate the love we feel for our children, and it doesn’t make us bad moms. 

The Relationship Between Religion and Toxic Positivity

Belonging to a religious community can be very beneficial for many people, offering a sense of belonging. But Whitney pointed out that church and faith communities are essentially the birthplaces of toxic positivity. 

These communities value the power of positive thinking and tell people that God wants them to be happy. 

There’s nothing wrong with faith—but the problem arises when we put our beliefs on other people who don’t share those same belief systems. This can lead to shame and friction. 

Religious communities sometimes tell people that they shouldn’t have mixed feelings—that doubt indicates a lack of faith. 

But when we dismiss our emotions, we aren’t able to develop the skills we need to work through them. Faith can be a great thing, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of actual coping skills. 

Religion isn’t the only place where people encounter toxic positivity. It also creeps into the wellness and self-development worlds. 

These communities emphasize the idea that you must always be growing and doing better—as Whitney said, there’s a billion dollar industry built on the idea that we are just one thought away from being rich or achieving what we want. 

The belief that we always need to be doing better is actually what often keeps people feeling very stuck.

In her experience, the belief that we always need to be doing better is actually what often keeps people feeling very stuck. When people are able to accept themselves, they typically end up doing more than when they come from a place of shame—like shaming themselves into losing weight or dieting. 

Whitney did point out that it’s okay to want to work on yourself, or even to get botox or dye your hair if it makes you happy. But it comes down to your motivation—are you doing this because it feels good or because you feel unworthy? 

This can become particularly complicated when we experience frustrations with our post-baby bodies. We sometimes want to feel like ourselves again, wear the clothes we used to wear, and have control over our own bodies again. 

There can be a desire to put ourselves first, and frustration that we don’t have time to do it. But if we work on acceptance of our bodies and our own emotions instead of shame and punishment, we can feel better and allow a more positive space for growth. 

How to Deal With Toxic Positivity In Our Lives

We are likely to encounter toxic positivity as moms at some point. So, how do we respond? How do we deal with toxic positivity when it happens to us? 

Whitney said the first step is to think about what type of relationship we have with the person. If a stranger at the grocery store says something invalidating or unsolicited, we can just say thanks and move on, rolling our eyes internally. 

But if it’s somebody whose opinion and support we value, we might need to address it. 

Whitney said that we can say something like, “I know you are trying to help me, but that doesn’t feel helpful,” and then explain what would feel helpful. This can be really hard for many of us. Sometimes this might sound like saying, “I would love it if you could just listen.” 

You can use your own wording and tone, but communicate that what they are saying isn’t helpful and that it doesn’t feel good to you. 

It’s important to remember that not everybody is significant to us—not everybody’s opinion needs to be equally valued in our lives. We have our inner circle of trusted partners—our spouse, our best friend, and perhaps our closest family members. These are the people we value and trust. 

Then, there is another level of extended family members and friends who are trustworthy but not in our inner core circle, followed by another level of acquaintances and co-workers. Beyond that, there is a level of strangers on the internet—who shouldn’t get a say in how we parent. 

There is another level of strangers on the internet—who shouldn’t get a say in how we parent. 

When we are new parents, and feeling insecure, comments online can feel really loud. For example, if you’re unable to breastfeed, seeing comments that formula isn’t the best choice can feel jarring. 

In those moments, Whitney recommends telling yourself that not everybody knows what’s going on in your life—these people don’t know your story, and if they did, they probably wouldn’t say those things. We can also practice reassuring ourselves that we are making the best decision for ourselves and our babies. 

This is a strange time in history—for the first time, we are parenting with the opinions of hundreds or thousands of strangers ringing in our ears. This can be overwhelming and contribute to anxiety. 

Sometimes we need to place protective measures and boundaries in our lives, such as limiting our exposure to social media, especially during fragile times. It’s also important to define your own values, and trust your own voice and intuition. 

It’s also important to identify the core people in your life who you know are not going to respond with judgement or toxic positivity, even if you adhere to different parenting philosophies. 

How to Avoid Engaging In Toxic Positivity

When we interact with other moms, it’s also important to avoid falling into patterns of toxic positivity. 

Whitney recommends checking in with what the other person is looking for. Some people want to hear advice, but others just want to be heard or validated. We can ask what they are looking for, saying something along the lines of, “Do you need some reassurance that this is going to get better or do you just want me to hear you?”

Then, make sure you are validating the other persons’ emotions. We can say things like, “You’re not wrong—I would probably feel the same way,” instead of “everything happens for a reason,” or “it will all work out.” 

Don’t underestimate the value of validation. When I was struggling with PPD, I remember that my husband would always say, “I believe you.” It helped me know that my feelings were valid, and that I had his support. 

Sometimes it can be hard to sit in the discomfort or share in someone’s pain. There’s a level of tolerance that we can’t fix problems or make other people feel better. (It’s the same reason we struggle to see our children experience negative emotions and want to alleviate their distress). 

There is a level of self-work that we also need to do, building up our tolerance for that discomfort and understanding that there is value in working through emotions. 

If you’re struggling with isolation or experiencing invalidation of your emotions, working with a mom therapist can help! Book a free 15 minute consult through our Wellness Center today!

NEWSLETTER

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay updated.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Tags:

How to deal with toxic positivity

Stage:

Postpartum, Motherhood, Trying to Conceive, Pregnant

Share Now:

OUR GUEST

Whitney Goodman
Marriage and Family Therapist

Whitney Goodman, LMFT, is the radically honest psychotherapist behind the hugely popular Instagram account @sitwithwhit, author, and the owner of The Collaborative Counseling Center, a virtual therapy practice Florida. Whitney's debut book (released February 2022), TOXIC POSITIVITY: KEEPING IT REAL IN A WORLD OBSESSED WITH BEING HAPPY, shows readers how to shift the goal from being happy to being authentic in order to live fully. She earned her undergraduate degree at Tulane University and a graduate degree in Counseling Psychology from The University of Miami. Whitney has her own column in Psychology Today and has been featured in dozens of domestic and international publications, including The New York Times, Teen Vogue, NY Magazine, and Good Morning America.

Erica Djossa
Erica Djossa
PMH-C | Founder of Momwell
Erica is the founder of Momwell, providing educational resources and virtual therapy for moms. She is a mom of three boys and a registered psychotherapist. Erica’s work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Breakfast Television, Scary Mommy, Medium, Pop Sugar, and Romper. how they want it.
RELATED ARTICLES
April 29, 2024
April 24, 2024
Understanding and Implementing Responsive Parenting: How to Break the Yelling/Shame Cycle
E:
222
with
Dr. Cindy Hovington
Founder of Curious Neuron
April 22, 2024
April 17, 2024
How to Maintain Friendships (and Make Friends) as a Mom
E:
221
with
Danielle Bayard Jackson
Author
April 15, 2024
April 10, 2024
How Stressed Moms Can Cope: Understanding and Breaking Out of the Stress Cycle
E:
220
with
Amelia Nagoski
Co-author of Burnout
April 1, 2024
March 6, 2024
Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts About Baby: The Role of Stress, Anxiety, and Anger
E:
215
with
Dr. Caroline Boyd
Clinical Psychologist
March 25, 2024
February 28, 2024
How to Embrace Career Change as a Mom: Finding Your Passion and Overcoming Guilt
E:
214
with
Jess Galica
Career and Leadership Coach, Best-Selling Author
March 18, 2024
February 21, 2024
Understanding Postpartum Depression in Dads and Non-Birthing Partners
E:
213
with
Mark Williams
International Advocate for Perinatal Mental Health and Author
March 11, 2024
February 14, 2024
Rekindling Your Sex Life After Baby: Communication Is Key
E:
212
with
Vanessa & Xander Marin
bestselling authors & hosts of the podcast Pillow Talks
February 26, 2024
January 31, 2024
Postpartum Rage vs. Parental Anger: How Social Expectations Create Overwhelmed Moms
E:
210
with
Dr. Ashurina Ream
Founder and CEO of Psyched Mommy, licensed clinical psychologist
April 25, 2024
January 24, 2024
You’re Not an Angry Mom: Why We Experience Mom Rage (and What We Can Learn From It)
E:
209
with
Minna Dubin
Author of Mom Rage: The Everyday Crisis of Modern Motherhood
February 20, 2024
January 17, 2024
What Causes Mommy Brain? The Role of the Invisible Load on Forgetfulness and Brain Fog
E:
208
with
Dr. Jodi Pawluski
neuroscientist, psychotherapist and author
February 20, 2024
January 3, 2024
How Parents Can Avoid Information Overload: Maintaining Confidence in Our Decision-Making
E:
206
with
Cara Goodwin
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
December 6, 2023
Navigating Different Sex Drives in Parenthood: What Impacts Libido and How to Reconnect
E:
202
with
Dr. Lauren Fogel Mersy & Dr. Jennifer Vencill
Licensed Psychologists and Authors
February 20, 2024
November 29, 2023
Prioritizing the Invisible Load of Motherhood: Valuing Our Own Time and Letting Go of Mental Labor
E:
201
with
Whitney Casares
Founder and CEO of Modern Mommy Doc
February 20, 2024
November 22, 2023
Erica’s Husband Reflects on Sharing the Invisible Load
E:
200
with
Frenel Djossa
Erica’s Husband & Co-Founder of Momwell
February 20, 2024
November 15, 2023
Breaking Generational Trauma Cycles: Healing Our Past and Moving Forward in Motherhood
E:
199
with
Dr. Mariel Buqué
Psychologist and the author of the book Break the Cycle: A Guide to Healing Intergenerational Trauma
February 20, 2024
November 8, 2023
Is There Such a Thing as Healthy Perfectionism? Reframing the Concept of “Perfect” in Motherhood
E:
198
with
Katherine Morgan Schafler
Psychotherapist and author
February 20, 2024
November 1, 2023
Breaking Out of the Default Parent Role: How to Communicate with Your Partner and Change Patterns
E:
197
with
Erin & Stephen Mitchell
Founders of Couples Counseling for Parents
February 20, 2024
October 18, 2023
Rebuilding Connection and Intimacy After Baby: How Family Systems Can Help Us Navigate Relationship Challenges
E:
195
with
Aaron Steinberg
Co-Founder of Babyproofing Your Relationship
February 20, 2024
October 11, 2023
Embracing the 7 Types of Rest: Why Moms Are Exhausted and What Actually Helps
E:
194
with
Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith
Board-Certified internal medicine physician and award-winning author
February 20, 2024
October 4, 2023
Interpreting Newborn Hunger Cues and Sleepy Signs: How to Learn Your Baby’s Needs
E:
193
with
Sharon Mazel
Author of Bite-Sized Parenting: Your Baby’s First Year
February 20, 2024
September 27, 2023
Understanding Overfunctioning in Relationships: How to Change Dynamics After Baby
E:
192
with
Dr. Tracy Dalgleish
Clinical Psychologist and Relationship Expert
February 20, 2024
September 20, 2023
Managing Mom Anxiety: Why Millennial Moms Are So Anxious and How to Overcome Our Fears
E:
191
with
Dr. Lauren Cook
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
September 13, 2023
Embracing Power as Moms: Reshaping Dynamics In and Out of the Home
E:
190
with
Claire Shipman
NYT Bestselling Author
February 20, 2024
September 6, 2023
How to Raise Confident Kids: Breaking Cycles of Negative Self-Esteem
E:
189
with
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe
Founder of The North Star Developmental Clinic
February 20, 2024
August 23, 2023
Understanding Sensory Self-Care: How Overstimulated Moms Can Regulate and Regain Calm
E:
187
with
Holly Peretz
Pediatric Occupational Therapist
February 20, 2024
August 16, 2023
Navigating Matrescence: The Roller Coaster of Becoming a Mom
E:
186
with
Dr. Catherine Birndorf
Co-Founder and Medical Director of The Motherhood Center of New York
February 20, 2024
August 2, 2023
Establishing Family Values: How to Identify What Matters and Avoid Comparison
E:
184
with
Mell & Joe Hashey
Founders of Strong Family Co.
February 20, 2024
July 26, 2023
The Journey of a Bereaved Parent: Stefania Thomson’s Story of Navigating Grief and Loss
E:
183
with
Stefania Thomson
Bereavement and Grief Advocate
February 20, 2024
June 21, 2023
Myths About Toddler Behavior: How to Reclaim the "Terrible Twos"
E:
178
with
Dr. Cathryn Tobin
Pediatrician
February 20, 2024
April 26, 2023
Working Through Conflict About Growing Your Family: What to Do When Only One Partner Wants Another Baby
E:
170
with
Elizabeth Earnshaw
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
March 29, 2023
Birth Trauma Part 2: Facing Pregnancy After a Traumatic Birth
E:
166
with
Kayleigh Summers
Clinical Social Worker
February 20, 2024
March 22, 2023
Birth Trauma Part 1: How Birth Trauma Impacts Our Family Decision Making
E:
165
with
Kayleigh Summers
Clinical Social Worker
February 20, 2024
March 15, 2023
Real Self-Care for Moms: Why Mindset Matters More Than Massages
E:
164
with
Dr. Pooja Lakshmin
Psychiatrist
February 20, 2024
February 8, 2023
Overcoming Mom Guilt: Rewriting the Motherhood Contract and Charting Your Own Path
E:
159
with
Libby Ward
Founder of Diary of an Honest Mom
February 20, 2024
January 18, 2023
Resolving Conflict in Your Relationship After Baby
E:
156
with
Sheina Schochet
Mental Health Counselor
February 20, 2024
January 4, 2023
Reestablishing Sex After Baby: Why Communication Matters and How to Create a New Normal
E:
154
with
Travis Goodman
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
December 28, 2022
Coping During Postpartum with No Family Support: When Reality Clashes with Expectations
E:
153
with
Emmalee Bierly and Jennifer Chaiken
Founders of ShrinkChicks
February 20, 2024
November 23, 2022
The Mental Load of Motherhood: How to Address the Imbalance of Household Labour
E:
148
with
Gemma Hartley
Journalist and Author
February 20, 2024
November 16, 2022
Surviving the Baby Witching Hour: How to Cope With Colicky and Fussy Babies
E:
147
with
Dr. Whitney Casares
Pediatrician
February 20, 2024
November 2, 2022
How To Deal With Toxic Positivity As a Mom: What To Do When Someone Invalidates Your Feelings
E:
145
with
Whitney Goodman
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
October 19, 2022
Returning to Work After Maternity Leave: Navigating the Emotions, Difficulties, and Challenges
E:
143
with
Dr. Cassidy Freitas
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
October 12, 2022
How to Know if You Have Postpartum Anxiety: Red Flags to Watch for in Pregnancy, Birth, and After Baby
E:
142
with
Dr. Sarah Oreck
Reproductive Psychiatrist
February 20, 2024
October 5, 2022
Protecting Maternal Sleep: The Relationship Between Sleep Deprivation and Postpartum Depression
E:
141
with
Dr. Nicole Leistikow
Reproductive Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist
February 20, 2024
September 21, 2022
Encouraging Independent Play: Why Unstructured Play Matters and How to Foster It
E:
139
with
Susie Allison
Founder of Busy Toddler
February 20, 2024
September 14, 2022
Dividing Labour Fairly in the Home: Redistributing the Mental Load of Motherhood
E:
138
with
Dr. Darcy Lockman
Author and Psychologist
April 25, 2024
August 31, 2022
Why Does a Messy House Give Me Anxiety? How to Stress Less About Cleaning and Keep Your House Functioning
E:
136
with
KC Davis
@domesticblisters on TikTok and Founder of Struggle Care
February 20, 2024
August 3, 2022
Overcoming Postpartum Depression and Anxiety: Why Support Matters and How to Find Resources to Help
E:
132
with
Dr. Wendy Davis
Executive Director of PSI
February 20, 2024
July 27, 2022
Overcoming Working Mom Guilt: Why Moms Should Never Be Ashamed to Be Ambitious
E:
131
with
Lara Bazelon
Law Professor and Author
February 20, 2024
February 16, 2022
What is Matrescence? The Transition into Motherhood (And Why Being a New Mom is Hard)
E:
108
with
Dr. Katayune Kaeni
Perinatal Psychologist
February 20, 2024
February 2, 2022
Discover Your Personal Core Values
E:
106
with
Dr. Cassidy Freitas
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
January 26, 2022
When Mommy Rage Strikes: How to Prevent and Control the Anger
E:
105
with
Dr. Ashurina Ream
Founder of Psyched Mommy
February 20, 2024
January 5, 2022
Sleep Training Doesn't Have To Be Scary
E:
102
with
Dr. Aubrie DeBear
Founder of Baby Sleep Dr.
February 20, 2024
January 19, 2022
Carrying the Mental Load: How to Redistribute the Burden and Give Moms More Freedom
E:
104
with
Eve Rodsky
New York Times Bestselling Author
February 20, 2024
January 12, 2022
Baby Blues vs. Postpartum Depression: How to Spot the Signs So You Can Seek Support
E:
103
with
Dr. Kristina Deligiannidis
Reproductive Psychiatrist