By Dr. Liz Hale
Studio 5 Contributor
Everyone has been around someone who, because of their negativity, has zapped the energy right out of them. Such a toxic personality can bring you down and drain you dry. Dr. Liz shares some thoughts.
First of all, when you’re dealing with a family member who’s had a bad day, and who hasn’t now and again, it’s so tempting to argue with them about how it’s not really all that terrible. But what happens is it fuels the fire and they simply pounce on the opportunity to prove just how bad life really is! Their negativity escalates and the situation gets worse before it gets better. It’s important to know when to keep quite and just let the negativity pass.
I recently read of a mother who was so exasperated with her son’s negative mood that she started agreeing with everything he said. When her son told her he had no friends, she agreed. When he complained that his teacher didn’t seem to care about him, she agreed. After several minutes of this kind of dialogue, his mood suddenly shifted. He said he was too tired to talk anymore and went to bed smiling.
It’s been my experience that the very thing a negative person needs is the hardest thing for us to give them because we’re often so irritated by their complaints……namely, love and attention. How do you show love and understanding to someone who is so negative? By listening and acknowledging their feelings with something like, “It sounds like you are very upset with your boss.” “Is there anything I can do to help?” Perhaps you may even offer a hug to them even if you get rejected. A negative person has difficulty receiving love from others. But love them not necessarily because of who they are because of who YOU are.
Also, negative people usually talk in generalizations. Like everything is bad. There are often these cognitive distortions. To help someone sort through their own distorted thinking, ask for some specifics. Ask questions like, “What specifically about your job is making you this miserable?” This forces someone to evaluate what their trying to say. A negative person will either give up because it takes too much effort to explain themselves or it may just help them get to the bottom of the issue.
Here is an effective 4-step process for those times when we need to be more direct with a spouse or even a dating partner:
1) “In honor of our relationship, I need to tell you the truth.”
2) “When you____________, it makes me feel_______________.”
3) “I request that you________________.”
4) “Are you willing to do this?”
Let’s say you have a spouse who is always critical of you. You might say:
“In an effort to honor our relationship I need to tell you the truth. When you criticize me, it makes me feel angry and discouraged. My request is that you stop criticizing me so that we can move closer instead of further apart. Are you willing to do that?”
How about a spouse or someone you’re dating who always complains about their job? That can get so old for a partner. You may say:
“In an effort to honor our relationship, I need to tell you the truth. When you complain about your work every week, it makes me feel drained and annoyed. My request is that you become proactive in changing the situation, and I’ll support you 100%, however, I can no longer listen to your complaints. Are you willing to do this?”
If negative people in your life are critically affecting your mental and physical health, you may need to evaluate whether or not you want to interact with this person. If this is a boss or co-worker you can certainly avoid having to deal with them other than what’s absolutely necessary for getting the job done. If it’s a family member, you need to reinforce very strong boundaries with chronically negative people and perhaps even seek professional intervention if their negativity it truly affecting you quality of life.
If we do nothing else, we can focus on maintaining our own positive thoughts and behavior and managing the negative.
You are the only person you can control……and it just may help a negative person make the transition towards a healthier way of viewing life.
Dr. Liz Hale is a regular contributor on Studio 5 and a local clinical psychologist who specialized in individual, marriage and corporate consulting. If you have questions for Dr. Liz, you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (801) 363-2245.