Dementia and Toxic Positivity Mongers

I was recently introduced to the term “toxic positivity.”

I instantly knew what the term referred to, and I could relate.

I see it on social media….Positive vibes only…Think happy thoughts…There’s always a silver lining…It’s a great day to have a great day.

And I can remember times when I was struggling and someone shot that toxic positivity crap at me.

Years ago I was dealing with ongoing anxiety issues when a friend told me, “Just go to your happy place.” I wanted to respond, “Just go to hell.”

Then she wanted to remind me of all the blessings in my life. She was trying to help, but the message I received was that I was a failure for struggling when I had so many good things in my life.

Yes, I have a million positive things in my life, and I’m grateful for those things. I still have bad days. I shouldn’t have to feel guilty for that.

Positive thinking is great. But it’s human to feel a wide range of emotions—and not all of them are going to be positive. You are not doing something wrong if you can’t see the silver lining. Maybe your situation really does suck. And maybe in time a positive lining will come into focus, but perhaps you don’t see it now. And that’s okay.

The problem with toxic positivity is that it makes us feel like failures if we can’t maintain a smile in the face of adversity. Guess what? You don’t HAVE to smile through adversity.

A woman I know told a friend that her husband had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Her friend’s response was “At least it’s not cancer.”

Way to look on the bright side….except the bright side sometimes fails to acknowledge that humans experience loss, and we are allowed to grieve those losses.

You are allowed to cry in your car in the Target parking lot. You’re allowed to yell as loud as you like in the shower. You’re also allowed to do these things in public for that matter. Maybe it will make others uncomfortable. So what.

Let’s talk about death and toxic positivity.

You should be thankful he lived such a long life.

We should all be grateful he’s in a better place.

You should be glad he’s not suffering anymore.

Sure. But someone you love is dead and that’s hard. Comments like this minimize loss. I don’t care if the person was 98 years old and the happiest son-of-a-gun you’ll ever meet. You get to experience that loss without someone telling you how grateful you should be.

Sometimes we all feel sad. We feel cheated by the universe. We get pissed off. That doesn’t mean we have a bad attitude. It means we are human.

I overheard this conversation at a nursing home recently:

Woman 1: It’s so hard that Dad’s here.

Woman 2 (Woman 1’s sister, I assume): But there are much worse nursing homes.

Woman 1: I know, but it’s so sad seeing him here.

Woman 2: Yeah, but we should be grateful the nursing home is so close to Mom.

Woman 1: Yes, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

Woman 2: I’m just saying we should look on the bright side. We are blessed.

Spoiler alert—Woman 2 is one of those toxic positivity mongers.

The bright side. The silver lining. There’s always someone worse off.

It’s okay to not focus on the bright side. It’s okay to not look for the silver lining. It’s okay to be sad.

And feeling sad doesn’t mean you aren’t blessed. It doesn’t mean you’re not grateful for those blessings. It doesn’t mean you’re ungrateful or unappreciative or that you lack empathy for other people’s struggles.

It just means you’re sad.

You’re allowed to be sad.

13 thoughts on “Dementia and Toxic Positivity Mongers

  1. I struggle with this. I am trying so hard to push through and not let my situation reduce me to a Negative Nancy that everyone avoids. I’m trying so hard to keep my spirits up for him, the kids, and for myself. I recognize the diagnosis of my husband. I know we are on borrowed time. I’m just trying to not lose one precious moment feeling sorry for myself. But some days I am just sad and scared, and on those days, I just want someone to sit beside me and say, “You are right. It sucks and it’s not fair. You shouldn’t be preparing to lose your 53 year old husband to dementia.”


  2. This is a great piece and a keeper. This could be said for any adversity in life. Like you said, we could always be worse, no matter the situation, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t grieve. Years ago when I was trying to conceive unsuccessfully, I finally got pregnant only to have a miscarriage. Someone said to me, “at least you know now that you can get pregnant.” It was as if I was supposed to rejoice that I had a miscarriage because it meant something good?

    My mother-in-law was a good one for this toxic positivity. She never faced reality. Even when her husband was dying, she kept insisting he had good care and would get better. We used to say, “It never rains at Mom’s house.”

    This is not to take away from the theme of this blog, Alzheimer’s. I couldn’t even imagine the heartbreak of watching a loved one forget everything and everyone while diminishing physically. My heart goes out to you.


  3. Thank you for this. Tonight I went to the Internet to look for a blog to read that would give me hope that things weren’t going the way they seemed to be going — my husband has all the signs of dementia. All I could find was people trying to sell their stories/books and how dementia/Alzheimer’s destroyed their world. One person stated that as soon as the spouse was diagnosed, the partner was trapped and imprisoned by the disease every bit as much because they automatically became the caregiver.


  4. Caring for my mother with Alzheimer’s and constantly struggling with siblings who disagreed was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. I was in a constant struggle to keep my emotions on an even keel. Sadness overwhelmed me. A close friend told me that “at least I didn’t have cancer like another friend. Nothing would be worse than that.” I will never forget how invalidated I felt.


  5. Hi Elaine – Thank you for saying it’s ok to be sad. I’m sad much of the time – losing my mother bit by bit. Your article made me realize I’m not a Negative Nancy and that it’s ok to feel this way. Bless you.


    1. Thanks for your comment. It’s okay to be sad–losing your mother bit by bit is a difficult process. You’re not a Negative Nancy. You may, actually, be in a constant state of grief.


  6. Another winner,Elaine. Thank you for this. You are so right. I’ve often urged looking on the bright side, but I recognize the wisdom off you words.


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