Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Got some negative people in your life? At home? At work? Or some days, just about everywhere you turn?
It seems like I am often running into discussions that include the word negative, or even “toxic,” in relation to other people. There are certainly lots of people out there who are difficult in one way or another and, as a result, have a negative impact on you. People who make insensitive or just plain rude comments. Or try to tell you what to do. Or maybe try to pull you into complaining and hating and spiraling down into negativity along with them. And so on…
Here’s a question. As someone living with diabetes, do you sometimes feel especially vulnerable when you come into contact with people who sometimes, or often, fall into the negative camp? You’ve got a lot to deal with as it is, right?
What it means to be negative
People you might label as negative don’t necessarily mean to be that way. They may be worried about you and, because they feel helpless, try to tell you what to do. In a kind way or in a not-so-kind way. A person who feels they have a right to dictate how you should be living your life, and who is quick to scold, may also have a generally controlling nature. Not easy to be around.
Or how about people who—at least today—seem to be on a campaign to find fault with anyone or anything, to constantly complain and hate on something. And seem to have a way of dragging you down that slippery slope into negativity right along with them.
Unfortunately, people who project negativity can turn up anywhere. In your family. A friend you called on the wrong day. A stranger standing next to you in the line at the grocery store. Or the person behind the counter at your pharmacy.
It’s only human nature to let ourselves slide into negative territory when we’re feeling scared, disappointed, angry, or frustrated. We see examples of that every day. And these are also feelings that living with a chronic condition can bring up.
Something to think about
First, are there that many “bad” people out there? A lot of people are struggling with their own challenges and don’t always act their best.
And second, are we completely at the mercy of the complainers, the scolders, the haters, and all those people having a bad day and trying to pull us into that dark space along with them? We might just have a choice.
Being with positive, supportive people promotes emotional wellness. It’s an important part of your self-care routine. So here’s a challenge: Instead of blaming other people for being negative, how about looking at what you can do to help other people to be more positive? Even be a healing presence?
Are you in? Here’s how to get things moving in a more positive direction. In other words, here are some antidotes for all that negativity:
Give the benefit of the doubt. Starting with an attitude of goodwill. Words can just pop out of our mouths when we’re not at our best. Gestures and facial expressions can be misinterpreted. What you hear and see may not be meant to be hurtful. Is this about you or is someone having a rough time?
Ask yourself: What am I contributing here? If you’re not in a good place yourself, your demeanor may be less than warm and welcoming. And a few angry or complaining words may slip out of your mouth. This can, in turn, cause other people to react in kind (especially if they aren’t giving you the benefit of the doubt).
The chicken or the egg? You can decide to be the one to hatch a conversation that heads in a positive direction. Opening with a smile, and words of kindness – even when you aren’t exactly feeling it – can shift the energy in a more positive direction. It’s worth a try.
Avoid getting caught up in the negative spin. Even when it feels so good. When you’re having a bad day… week… month… having a good vent can be a big relief. Nothing wrong with that. But be careful about getting caught up in a complaining session with someone who is also having a rough time. What can start as letting off some steam can go downhill quickly if you allow the conversation to turn into a contest about who has the hardest life and how awful the world – and the people in it—are.
Offer to help. As the saying goes, if you see something, say something. Instead of returning fire, or giving up, how about following up with an observation and some support? Something like: “It looks like you are not having such a great day. Is there something I can do to help?” This can encourage the other person to recognize how they are coming across, and to lower the wall they may have put up against other people.
Be clear. About what you need and don’t need. Back to the victim thing. I’m not suggesting you should accept negative behavior from other people with a smile. At some point, putting up with bad behavior just enables more bad behavior. It’s okay to be clear that you don’t wish to be treated in an unsupportive or hostile manner. You might say something like: “I don’t want to be the target for your ____ (anger, frustration, disappointment, etc.). I’m not here for that.” And then, depending on the relationship (friend, family member, customer, patient, etc.) let them know what behavior is acceptable.
Head in the direction of positive people. We can’t control how other people choose to think, feel, or behave. Sometimes we just have to let them sit with their negativity and deal with it on their own. Spend time with people who can accept, and return, the support, kindness and positive energy that all need to thrive.
We’re all in this together. Protect yourself from negative words and behavior. Do what you can to be a healing presence for the people in your life. And take good care of yourself by surrounding yourself with supportive people.