The Redesigning Wellness Podcast

237: How to Avoid Toxic Positivity with Dr. Natalie Christine Dattilo, Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Natalie Christine_Headshot

It’s important to stay positive, especially in trying times. But what happens when that positivity becomes unhelpful, shaming, and ultimately, toxic? The idea that the best or only way to cope with a negative situation is to put a positive spin on it is toxic to our emotional health. In this episode guest Dr. Natalie Dattilo, a Clinical Psychologist, and Mental Wellness Expert describes what toxic positivity looks like, and the line between being helpful and crossing over into toxicity. 

Episode Highlights:
  • 05:24 – Jen asks Dr. Natalie about her COVID experience.
  • 08:30 – Dr. Natalie shares, being able to help people practice and learn new skills in the space that they’re going to use is a benefit to doing the remote work.
  • 10:15 – Dr. Natalie states, that toxic positivity is the idea that the best or only way to cope with a negative situation is to put a positive spin on it.
  • 12:12 – The root of the toxic positivity issue is this idea that feeling bad means something is wrong, says Dr. Natalie
  • 15:33 – If there are lines of communication that are open between you and your employees about how they’re doing. It’s creating an atmosphere of openness, validation, compassion, and recognition that everybody’s doing the best they can.
  • 16:40 – Jen enquires, how wellness professionals know what is the helpful practice?
  • 18:00 – Dr. Natalie points out, that it’s hard to be grateful that this bad thing is happening to us, but we can be appreciative of the aspects of it.
  • 20:24 – Jen asks, what do you say if you’re an individual who hears toxic positivity from a friend, a loved one, or a team member.
  • 22:07 – As a deliverer of encouragement the best thing to practice is the question, “What can I do to support you here or how can I best support you here?”
  • 24:47 – The nature of relationships is going to be different, and attending to those different relationship needs is important. 
  • 26:05 – We want people to be positive, but not all the time. Jen enquires where do we make space or where do we allow for dissension? 
  • 28:22 – Some problems have both an emotional component like it’s upsetting and then a practical one like how are we going to fix this? Dealing with each of those might require different strategies or different tools.
  • 30: 10 – If we focus only on fixing it, we haven’t addressed the emotional distress. Part of that either which way isn’t just going away at this point, says Dr. Natalie
  • 31:05 – Jen asks, what would Dr. Natalie tell listeners to consider around toxic positivity?
  • 33:50 – Jen thinks that helping people feel valued, it’s a vital component of making people feel like they’re part of it.
  • 35:00 – Dr. Natalie’s final message is that positivity is a good thing and applying it appropriately can be helpful. 
Three Key Points:
  1. Let’s just embrace our feeling; feel the feelings that are there and get better at dealing with those instead of trying to turn them into something else or shame ourselves or others for having them in the first place. 
  2. Sometimes it’s getting specific, really concrete, and practical about what you need or what a person might need to either feel better or to work productively or minimize distress and burnout and stress.
  3. There’s nothing wrong with negativity, calling out a problem doesn’t make you a negative person. Identifying a problem is important, it’s a part of finding the solution. So, there’s a way to balance out. It’s not like denying that there’s a bad situation or a negative situation or a bad idea. Let’s call that out but then stay optimistic and thoughtful and responsive in coming up with a solution.
Full Bio:

Dr. Natalie Christine Dattilo is a clinical psychologist and mental wellness expert who specializes in the treatment and prevention of depression, anxiety, stress, and burnout. She has over 13 years of experience helping humans find happiness using a personalized, structured, and scientifically-backed approach. She is passionate about translating cutting-edge research from psychology, neuroscience, and medicine into practical strategies for health & wellness, personal fulfillment, and success. 

Dr. Natalie received her doctorate in psychology from the University of Florida and completed her residency and fellowship in psychology at Indiana University School of Medicine where she served as a member of the clinical faculty for over 9 years before relocating to the Boston-area. Currently, she provides psychological consultation for the Physician Wellness Program at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and is an Instructor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. In 2016, she founded Priority Wellness Group, a mental health consultancy specializing in lifestyle wellness services that are sustainable, accessible, holistic, and science-backed.  


Twitter: @natalie_dattilo

Instagram: @drnataliechristine