Can Gratitude be Toxic? A No BS Lesson from Lisa Bilyeu

Can Gratitude be Toxic? A No BS Lesson from Lisa Bilyeu


Can gratitude be detrimental? Here’s how to spot toxic gratitude and toxic positivity and embrace challenges with radical confidence, according to Lisa Bilyeu.

Toxic gratitude has many forms and it’s very subtle. Positivity is so normalized these days that the common belief is that it can only be positive — and this created toxic gratitude culture. 

It’s a dangerous state of mind, sometimes even more dangerous than a negative mindset. Believe it or not, it can keep you from growth and expansion because you refuse to see the whole picture.

You can still be grateful for many things in your life and give yourself the grace to face negative moments and use them as your opportunity for growth.

Let’s explore four lessons from Lisa Bilyeu, co-founder of Impact Theory, on how to avoid slipping into this pitfall (and being grateful for it).

What Is Toxic Gratitude?

Toxic gratitude is when you dismiss how unhappy you are in your life. It’s when you say to yourself how ungrateful you are to want more because you have a loving partner, a satisfying career, healthy kids… you name it.

Lisa says, “When you need the confidence to speak up about how unhappy you are, toxic gratitude is what prevents you from it.”

Gratitude is indeed a great way to pivot from a negative to a positive mindset. But if it prevents you from creating the life you want, it keeps you stuck.

woman holds a mug with the text see the good

Gratitude vs. Toxic Positivity

Contrast is the reality of the Universe, where both positive and negative co-exist. Recognizing positive and negative aspects of things, people, and situations is a highly impartial and objective skill.

We get into trouble when we get biased towards any polarity — in this case, towards positive emotions, feelings, or thoughts. 

Indeed, many people tend to manipulate their perspective on the situation to avoid negativity. If they don’t feel positive, they feel ungrateful for all the good things in life. So this type of manipulation becomes toxic positivity.  

How is toxic positivity different from gratitude?

Gratitude is a positive emotion you experience when you appreciate things that could be taken for granted. Although you experience it as an emotion, it’s an active state as it requires you to pause and notice.

Unlike toxic positivity, you don’t use gratitude as a coping mechanism to cope with your inability to manage your negative emotions or to see negatives. In other words, gratitude is your ability to be appreciative. In contrast, toxic positivity is your inability to see things as they are.

This is how you develop a coping mechanism of negating negatives with positives, which is a form of toxic positivity.  

While practicing daily gratitude has a number of benefits to your well-being, toxic positivity has a number of dangers. Let’s look at six reasons why it’s detrimental to your life:

1. You step out of reality

When you cancel out the negative aspect of life, you dwell upon illusions. It means you no longer take actions based on reality. You can’t make the right decisions and choices in a situation where you don’t want to see the whole picture.

2. Risk of emotional self-abuse

You emotionally invalidate your painful feelings and thoughts and isolate the aspect of yourself experiencing negative emotions or thoughts. It can result in questioning your own sanity. Most importantly, you deny yourself the authentic support you need.

3. Risk of emotional abuse of others

In the same way, you invalidate other people’s unwanted emotions and feelings, making them feel that what they feel isn’t important or significant. This is how you make them question their own sanity.

4. Employment of a coping mechanism

When you cope with something, you adapt to a stressor. You don’t do anything to change it but adapt to it staying. By practicing toxic positivity, you keep yourself stuck in a detrimental situation. In other words, you develop false powerlessness instead of facing reality and taking action to change it.

5. You are in a state of avoidance and resistance

You use toxic positivity as a tool of avoidance and resistance. And whatever you resist persists. If you don’t recognize negatives, they will only grow bigger. 

6. You stop your personal growth and expansion

Negative events serve your expansion. It’s the invitation from the Universe to shake things up in your life. When you face the unwanted, you can create improvement. On the contrary, when you avoid seeing the negative, you perpetuate your stagnation and dysfunction.

Lisa Bilyeu on toxic gratitude
Lisa Bilyeu, co-founder of Impact Theory

Lisa’s 4 Tips on How to Shatter Toxic Gratitude and Become the Hero of Your Own Life

Lisa explains that whatever you fear — speaking on stage, starting a new business, changing your career — you need a game plan to move towards what you want. 

Let’s look at her four tips on how you can create your strategy:

1. Cultivate radical confidence

According to Lisa, confidence isn’t a feeling. To be confident means that you don’t lie to yourself that you feel amazing about things you are afraid of doing. 

“It doesn’t mean you have a false belief. It doesn’t mean you won’t fail. Confidence is your goal,” she adds.

You want confidence in order to… fill in the blank. And focus on your end goal instead of a feeling. When you keep your goal in mind, it becomes a stepping stone to making the first step. 

If you want to speak on stage, you just need to get on stage, and then your next step is to become good at it. In other words, it’s the practice that makes you good at something.

Once you get competent, the confidence will eventually come as a byproduct of reaching your goal.

2. Take ownership of your life and be your own hero

We tend to look outside ourselves to be saved. But the truth is that nobody is going to save you but you. Even when we think we need someone, we don’t need them. We choose to be with them.

I thought I needed my husband to be there for me, but I didn’t. I wanted him, but I didn’t need him. I am my own hero.

— Lisa Bilyeu, co-founder of Impact Theory

How do you translate it in your life?

Instead of listening to doctors, start listening to your body. Instead of listening to what society tells you, start tapping into your soul’s desires. And very soon, you will realize that you are your own hero.

3. Validate yourself instead of seeking external validation

Lisa explains that external validation keeps us stuck. In her own experience, she was getting pats on the back for being a traditional stay-at-home wife and mother. 

“Mothers get so much joy and validation out of being a parent. So when their children leave home, they don’t know where to get that validation from because their identity shifted,” she adds.

We hold on to external validation to avoid making a change, and then we no longer know who we are.

Before you start validating yourself, you need to identify your identities and your true desires.

Ask yourself:

  • What’s my identity?
  • Does it fulfill me?
  • Why do I keep doing what I do?
  • What do I want in life?

You need to make a shift from your identity to what you want in life and then start moving toward your desires.

Self-validation isn’t about praising yourself for doing something right or well. It’s about allowing yourself to try new challenges, make mistakes, and even fail.

4. Cultivate learner identity 

The fear of failure won’t disappear — it will always be there. But if you cultivate an identity of a learner (in other words, a growth mindset), you will become invincible. 

Even when you feel insecure and fearful of doing something you aren’t good at, you can always validate yourself for learning something new. As Lisa says, “It’s not blind confidence. It’s giving yourself grace and permission to learn.”

Listen to the full podcast episode here:

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When your goal is to learn, you can’t fail as long as you allow yourself to learn. And learning something new will never fail to bring you fruition and fulfillment. 

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Written by
Irina Yugay