What is dismissive positivity and why is it toxic?

There is a concept called dismissive positivity that has recently been popularized by a Miami-based psychotherapist named Whitney Goodman. Dismissive positivity is a cheery, positive response to someone telling you about their distress or pain. It’s using clichés or Pollyanna responses to react to something one is upset about or when another is sharing painful feelings. It sounds counter-intuitive to say that this is an insensitive response because we have been taught to try to think positive or stay upbeat when in a crisis. So, why is dismissive positivity toxic in communication?

Although dismissive positivity is exhibited in many conversations in life, talking to people about their coronavirus fears is a good place to start in discussing and understanding this concept. Many people, probably most of us, are really scared right now. There’s a lot to be afraid of with all the unknowns of the virus and no real end in sight for relief from the distress. Our worlds have been turned upside down from job loss, economics, school closings, lockdowns, and people getting sick and dying. There doesn’t seem to be an upside or a cheery response to these real fears. But someone who uses dismissive positivity may respond to your fears saying things like this:

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