Bad things happen every day, and it would be naive of anyone to take on the role of a Pollyanna no matter what happens to them in life.
One day you’re up and the next, you’re down — that’s just how life works.
You do your best to take things in your stride, learn from the bad when there’s something to be learnt, and move on with your life.
But for some people, every day’s a miserable day that’s filled with a determination to complain, lash out and take everyone down with them.
All of us have these people in our lives: The persistent pessimist who’s always insisting that you’re wrong; the jealous friend who can never find it in them to be happy for you when you score a win; the chronic complainer who’s always hogging the conversation with their problems.
Being in the presence of someone like that can be exhausting and extremely stressful, and here’s the thing: What if this is someone you just cannot avoid because you work or live with them?
To keep yourself sane and well-being intact, you’ll need to know how to spot a negative person and how to deal with them once they enter your orbit.
But first, you’ll need to know what you’re dealing with.
WHAT ARE THE TRAITS OF A NEGATIVE PERSON?
Some people leave you feeling drained and just plain bad after you spend time with them.
But how can you tell if someone is negative or just having a bad day?
Here’s what to look out for:
They’re chronic complainers.
Every conversation you have is dominated by them complaining about everything in their lives: Their other friends, their spouse, co-workers, the weather or even how ‘offensively’ the unsuspecting stranger at the next table is dressed.
Nothing gets past The Complainer and there’s never a day where something ‘bad’ doesn’t happen to them.
They’re persistently pessimistic.
Everything can and will go wrong as far as The Pessimist is concerned, which is why they never bother to look for upsides or possibilities.
This is also why they don’t entertain hopes, dreams or fantasies, be it theirs or yours, and will burst any bubble that comes their way.
They’re never supportive.
Got a goal you’re chasing after? Landed a promotion at work? Scored a windfall? Feeling low and could really use some emotional support?
Don’t even think about telling The Negative because they’ll meet your optimism or hurt with silence or worse still, tear you to shreds with outright criticism or back-handed comments that’ll have you feeling ashamed and doubting yourself.
They’re constantly worrying.
The Worrier isn’t all that different from The Pessimist, but instead of being prepared with a pro-active approach to life or looking for solutions to problems, all they do is, you guessed it: Worry.
Their constant worrying spills over into every other area of their lives: One-sided conversations, fear-driven decisions, avoidant behaviors, zero spontaneity, and a need to control everything as well as everyone, including you.
They never fail to one-up you.
Just bought a new outfit? So did they. And guess what? Theirs was more expensive than yours.
Ecstatic that you got accepted into the college of your dreams? Well, they just got into Harvard.
To the One-Upper, life’s a competition and they always have to be better than you, even when their ‘better’ thing is how much more tragic their bad day was compared to yours.
They’re always the victim.
When things don’t go their way, The Victim tends to get hostile and usually has their finger pointed at someone else for all the mistakes in their lives, including their own.
Why take ownership of their lives when it’s so much easier to play the blame game and offload their responsibilities to someone else?
WHAT CAUSES A PERSON TO BE NEGATIVE?
In an ideal world, every single person would have a healthy, balanced outlook on life and treat others the way they’d like to be treated.
But reality is far from that — life doesn’t deal a fair hand to everyone and our painful experiences can leave us scarred and burdened with emotional baggage that taint how we approach the world.
These scars and baggage often show up as insecurities, fears as well as unhealthy coping mechanisms that dictate how we respond to the people and situations in our lives.
And just like smoking, overeating and drinking, negative tendencies can become a habit, making them difficult to break.
But difficult doesn’t mean impossible, and they can be broken with awareness, time, consistent effort and support.
HOW NEGATIVE PEOPLE CAN AFFECT YOU
Have you ever noticed how you tend to eat more when you’re around people who eat a lot?
Or how you find yourself complaining more when you’re with someone who’s also complaining?
This is because of a perception-behavior link known as the chameleon effect — a well-documented phenomenon where just by witnessing someone do something, you become more likely to do it too. This link is particularly apparent when it comes to everyday behaviors like gesturing, posturing, ways of speaking and moods.
So if you’re spending a lot of with negative people, then you’re more likely to mimic them too, and judging by the results of studies on negativity and health, the consequences aren’t positive.
For one, taking on a cynical outlook on life can hurt you later in life by predisposing you to dementia, says a study that was published in the journal Neurology.
And from the looks of it, all that negativity ain’t good for your heart either: A study from the journal Circulation that involved almost 100,000 women found that the most cynical of them were more likely to develop heart disease than the rest.
The conclusion? The more time you spend with negative people, the more likely you are to become like them and increase your chances of getting seriously sick.
HOW TO RESPOND TO A NEGATIVE PERSON
Avoiding The Negatives, Pessimists, Complainers and others like them is the simplest thing to do, but it’s not always easy or possible.
After all, not every negative person you meet is going to be a stranger that hopefully, you’ll never see again. They’re also likely to be your co-worker, boss, close friend, sibling, parent or even spouse.
Here’s what you can do to deal with the negative people in your life without losing your mind:
1. Hold back from casting judgment.
It’s easy to write off someone you’ve just met who’s negative as a jerk who just wants everyone else to be as miserable as they are, but things are never as clear-cut as they seem.
When you barely know someone because you’ve just met them or haven’t made the effort to get to know them better, it’s impossible to know if they’re chronically negative or just going through a rough patch and have reached their limits.
Even the most grounded, patient people lose their cool from time to time when life feels like it’s too much to handle.
2. Set firm boundaries.
It’s crucial that you know what your boundaries are and be firm about protecting them when you’re interacting with someone who’s being negative.
If you have to, respectfully make the lines clear and leave the conversation if they’re being crossed — you don’t have to keep dealing with someone who’s hostile or tactless if you don’t want to.
Doing this may feel awkward, but you have a right to protect your energy and make sure you’re not being taken advantage of.
3. Respond, not react.
Someone pushing your buttons?
Try stepping away from the situation and come back to them later when you’ve had a chance to clear your head so you are able to respond to them calmly instead of reacting with anger.
Give the negative person you’re dealing with the benefit of the doubt at first, but if they seem to take pleasure (or feel no remorse) for upsetting you, seeing you suffer will only feed their need for more pain and negativity.
4. Don’t take things personally.
If you’ve not done anything to hurt or provoke someone, remember that their behavior is out of your control, so it’s best to detach yourself from their actions.
The best thing you can do when they act out frustration is to stay empathetic without internalizing their negative energy — they obviously have personal issues to work through and no one can do the work of healing for them.
5. Try to disarm their negativity.
Try asking them more questions so you’re able to understand them a little better and put yourself in their shoes.
Often, fear and pain show up as anger or hostility simply because someone doesn’t know how to express their vulnerability or have anyone to express them to.
Hurt people hurt people, goes the saying, but if you’re going to have to spend a fair bit of time around this person, a little empathy may just help put a stop to more hurt from being cast around.
6. Accept this person for who they are.
Empathy can go a long way in helping to diffuse a negative situation, but if a person is determined to stay hostile or angry no matter how much you try to help, there’s little that you can do except to be there for them if you’re willing to.
People can and do change, but only if they want to, so for now, you’re better off accepting someone who’s negative exactly as they are.
7. Find bright spots of positivity in your life.
Being around negative people can feel draining, so it’s crucial that you create pockets of positivity in your own life that’ll re-energize you.
Keeping these personal positivity pockets filled up could be as simple as getting some much-needed solitude, building your self-confidence at the gym or spending time with people who lift you up.
You can’t help anyone else without making your well-being a priority.
8. Be a positive force.
Telling someone to ‘cheer up’ or ‘be more positive’ rarely works.
Think about it: It’s hard for any of us to change our behaviors simply because we’ve been told to.
All of us know (and are constantly reminded) that we should eat healthily, get eight hours of sleep and exercise. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Yet, so few of us can say that we check all three boxes every single day.
The more effective (and relatable) way to help someone else change is to be an agent of change yourself — be that source of encouragement, kindness and movement in the direction of transforming the negative into positive by embracing change yourself.
Show someone that it’s possible, and it likely will be.
Just be careful not to be so determined to be positive that you come across as tone-deaf or insensitive.
9. Move on from negative people you can’t help.
There’s a term for negative people who don’t want to or see a need to change: Toxic.
When it comes to dealing with people like this, your healthiest bet is to minimize contact with them, especially if they’re completely closed off to seeing and understanding your point of view. If you can, consider avoiding having conversations with them altogether.
The reality is that not everyone can be helped and you’re better off channeling your energy to the people in your life who do want to understand where you’re coming from and don’t drain you dry.
No doubt, this step is the hardest of all to take, especially if the person in question is a close friend or family, and it may be a good idea to enlist the help of a counselor or therapist before deciding on your next move.
10. Learn how to process your own negative thoughts and emotions.
There’s a chance that while going through the list of negative traits in a person, you come to a terrifying realization: That you ARE this person.
This was me at one point, and I still find myself going there from time to time, but I’ve also been on a journey ever since to figure out what triggers get me going down a negative spiral and how I end up getting myself stuck in an endless cycle of rumination.
I’ve learned that feeling negative emotions like grief, sadness, anger or jealousy are perfectly normal and nothing to be ashamed about, but I have to make a conscious decision not to stay there by acknowledging and accepting what I’m feeling, and then understanding why these emotions are there.
Once this understanding is in place, I’m able to decide what I can do about it so I can move on and let it go.
What I no longer do is suppress my emotions and avoid dealing with whatever’s causing them — the perfect recipe for a deep, wide (read: dramatic) and painful negative spiral much later on.
Everyone experiences negative emotions from time to time, but what sets someone with a healthy mindset around these feelings apart from someone who’s chronically negative is knowing what to do about them.
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