It would be nice if we never had to associate with anyone negative, but unfortunately, sometimes the most negative people are those in our own circle of family and friends. The biggest challenge is to recognize the negativity, and then develop strategies for handling it. Have you noticed that you can be feeling great, and suddenly a negative person comes along and mentions that you don’t look like you feel well, and immediately you start to feel bad? Or have you ever been in an especially good mood, and then a family member or co-worker starts becoming negative, complaining about how bad things are, and before you know it, you’ve also jumped on the “woe is me” bandwagon? Negativity is physically exhausting, emotionally draining, and spiritually destructive. Let’s face it, there are negative people in all of our lives, that are like happiness vampires, depleting us of our physical energy, and cheerful mind-set.
In my life, I am constantly having to deal with this whenever I am with my widowed, elderly mom. She has every right to feel depressed, because she has so many horrible physical ailments, and of course, she misses my dad. I understand that completely. But there are days when she starts complaining about everyone and everything, becoming completely negative about life, and before I realize it, I begin to take on her perspective, when I actually started my day feeling pretty positive. On days like that, I can hardly wait to get back home. But I find that I am also in a negative mood, when I greet my husband. (That’s because I have taken on her feelings of negativity.) But on days when she is not in a negative mood, even difficult challenges seem less stressful. Attitude really is everything!
I think the important key is to be determined not to take on another person’s negative outlook. You can offer empathy and understanding, but you don’t have to get in the mud hole with them. Sometimes it helps to change the subject, and go another direction. Whenever possible, try to stay detached, as if you’re observing them from a distance, but don’t allow yourself to react to every negative statement they make. (I must warn you that this is very difficult.) But we do have the power to choose how we will let the negative moods of others affect us.
Keep looking on the bright side, and reminding yourself, that even though you have to be with this negative person for now, you will soon get a break, and can begin to concentrate on happier thoughts. I think negativity is a real problem for caregivers, because they give so much of themselves, and often receive little in return, except for complaints. Make sure that you do something nice for yourself each day. Light a scented candle, read a book, have a cup of tea or coffee, thumb through your favorite magazine, and arrange a time to get away from the situation periodically. You will come back revitalized, and newly energized, to deal with the negative person in your life.
All of us need time to decompress when we’ve been with negative people. Sometimes it’s helpful to recite positive affirmations. You could use Bible verses, or just phrases that you feel will build you up. Positive words are powerful, and can chase negative thoughts.
Something that I learned from counseling is that I cannot always come up with solutions for the negative people in my life. (I had been putting a great deal of pressure on myself to make my mother happy.) I learned that her happiness must come from within. I can provide a positive outlook, wherever possible, but she is responsible for her own inner peace and joy. She must choose daily to be negative or positive. That revelation was very freeing for me.
Sometimes identifying the source of the negativity helps. Perhaps the person is really afraid, but is masking their fear with negative words and emotions. Or maybe they are depressed, physically ill, or emotionally wounded, and this has caused them to only look on the negative side of things. Talk to them, and try to identify what is really bothering them, and if there is a good solution, help them create a positive plan.
Don’t solve the problem entirely for them; let them have input also. You may offer some suggestions, and let them know that you are listening, and that you do care, but instead of just commiserating with them, help them to confront the problem that is beneath all the complaining and negativity. Remember it is false responsibility to think that you must provide a solution for every concern. The responsibility for inner happiness belongs to the negative person. So let go of always trying to bring them around to your way of thinking. They cannot be forced into changing their outlook. They must sincerely want to change their negative way of thinking and speaking.
Be sure that you create boundaries for yourself. The temptation will always be, to get in too deep, and feel like you are also sinking in pessimism. (Misery loves company.) Before you know it, you may also be cynical and negative. That is unfair to your family, friends, and most of all, yourself. (You can’t help a drowning person, if you go down also.) Remember the advice on airliners–secure your own oxygen mask first, then help others. Discouragement and negativity can be very contagious, and after awhile, you can become exactly like the negative person you socialize with.
Often you will find, that many negative people really don’t want answers to their problems–they just want attention. They will often recite to you many reasons why a reasonable solution cannot possibly work. They enjoy being victims, and are always blaming others for everything that goes wrong in their lives. They need to learn to take responsibility for many of the negative outcomes. Hopefully, in time they will see that negative thinking produces negative results.
Negative people will also try to draw you into their battles. They will often criticize another person, hoping that you will join in, and take up the offense. But don’t take their bait. Remember that a negative person sees things from a different perspective, and they may be telling you only a partial truth. If they persist, offer to bring the other person into the conversation, and usually the negative person will tone down. If they continue their fault-finding, you may have to disengage whenever possible. While you probably can’t get away from your family, you can reevaluate friendships that are particularly one-sided and negative.
Maintain your optimism at all costs. A negative person will often grow tired of your cheerful outlook, and may seek out others (instead of you) because they are not getting the feedback they desire–which is more negativity. Refuse to play that game. As much as you can, surround yourself with positive people. These people will actually restore your energy, instead of draining it. Train yourself to be alert to good news and happy stories. A little humor never hurts either, as laughter is good medicine, and it helps to decrease tension and negativity, and lighten the circumstances. Don’t forget to solicit the help of others. With my mom, I discovered that she was not nearly as negative, when my husband joined us for dinner. Don’t forget to include the person in your prayers, and trust that spiritually, they will receive the help that they need, to see the positive side of life once again…
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