• James McNeil

Toxic Positivity (part 2)

In the last post, you saw three phrases used with people struggling that could be benign but could also be extremely toxic. Today I’d like to explore three more potentially toxic phrases we tend to use far too often with people struggling.

· “What does not kill you just makes you stronger.” This one sounds good. The message sounds like it will come across as, “you’re going to get stronger through this,” but it can have the opposite effect. What we don’t know when we say this is how many times the person struggling has been through this or similar situations. The phrase that’s intended to sound supportive can come across as judgmental when the person struggling looks back and asks why they aren’t stronger already. They can feel as though they’re not living up to expectations you didn’t even realize you were putting on them. A similar toxic phrase is, “You’re strong. You can handle this.” So what if I don’t feel strong? What if I feel like a failure? We say that it’s okay to not be okay, but it’s important to remember sometimes people don’t feel strong, and simply saying “you’re strong so you can do this” can have the opposite effect of what we intended.

· “That’s nothing. Don’t worry about it!” Very often this comment comes when a person is struggling with something that we may not think is a big deal. This is very similar to the “It’s not the worst thing in the world” comment we touched on last week. They may not say it, but they’re likely thinking something like, “Oh this is nothing? So, I am struggling with nothing? What does that say about me?” Imagine this being said to you when you’re dealing with an issue that seems bigger than you. How would you feel? That’s how they feel.

· “I’ve been there, too.” Unless you truly have been where they are now (unlikely) you come across as fake when you say this. Very rarely do we truly know how a struggling person feels. This is especially true when someone is grieving. We don’t know how they feel, and it can come across as arrogant when we suggest our experiences will help them get through the struggles they’re facing.

So far we’ve talked about things we should not say to someone struggling due to their tendency to be toxic. In the next post, we’ll discuss some things that can be very helpful to say in these situations. Do you have any suggestions? What have you said or heard that helped you during struggles? Send me an email at or simply go to to find me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or check out your own copy of Finding Your Personal Mission. You can also pick up your own “Your story is not over yet” t-shirt provided by my amazing friends at Really? Designs.

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