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Building Bridges by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante   

How to deal with negative people

by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante

We all know someone – a friend, family member, or co-worker – who usually looks at the downside of situations. They may say things like, “That is so stupid,” “She is so ugly,” “It’s not my fault, it’s theirs,” “He will always be a loser,” “They made me do it,” “It’s hopeless,” or “I give up”.

Such people can be very critical and unpleasant to be around. Whether they are making fun of a person’s outfit, blaming the teacher after they have failed a test, or predicting a terrible weekend when things don’t go their way, it can be enough to make you run away. People who are negative often play the victim and do not take responsibility for their own attitudes and behaviours.

It is likely that negative people have deep fears about themselves that come up in a variety of ways. Often, they are judgmental. For instance, they see a child throwing a tantrum and think that the mother is a terrible parent. Negative people are often demanding and put pressure on others to do things perfectly. This can extend to being controlling. For example, having strong opinions about what their spouse or children wear, eat or how they behave. This is because they are insecure about their own abilities and how the world looks at them. They can also be pessimistic, predicting failure or negative results when there is no evidence that it will happen. Negative people often avoid opening up in social settings like meetings or parties because they are afraid that what they say will be “used against them.” This can lead to boring conversations and “surface” relationships.

Although this type of person can be difficult to be around, we often keep them in our lives because either we care for them or we don’t have a choice (for example, a supervisor). Talking to negative people can leave us feeling uncomfortable, stressed, and even angry. We can sometimes doubt ourselves and start to experience anxiety. So, what can we do about this kind of situation? We cannot control others; we only have power over our own thoughts and actions.

Here are some ways to deal with negative people effectively:

1. Try to provide support and be a compassionate listener.

Sometimes, the person can just be having a bad day. They do not normally blame and criticize others or look at the glass as half empty. By hearing their story, you can help them to feel better. However, if the person is negative most of the time, it is time to change your strategy.

2. Don’t buy into the negativity.

Joining in and agreeing with the person’s statements will only leave you feeling awful afterwards. Worse, if someone else overhears you, they might label you as a negative person. Don’t respond to their attempts to engage you in this way of thinking. Simply use short answers like “oh” and “I see.” They should soon get the message that you don’t agree.

3. Avoid confronting them or advising them to change their ways. Listen without judgment.

Most people don’t take criticism well and people who are already negative will not have a good reaction to constructive feedback. If there is an indication that they might be open to what you have to say, deliver your opinion in a gentle, respectful way from a place of genuine concern. It usually does not help to outright criticize a criticizer.

4. Role model positivity.

Compliment that person and others around you. Saying things like “you did a great job” and “that was nice of you to do that” will leave them feeling better about themselves. They may then start to adopt a kinder way to behave. Also, be sure of your own good qualities. If you are more confident yourself, you won’t be as upset when you hear negative comments. You’ll be able to respond with confidence. For example, the person might say, “I don’t think you should take that job.” You might want to lash out and say, “You never support me!” or “Why do you have to bring me down?” However, being sure of yourself and your choices might lead you to respond instead with, “I think this will be a good change for me.”

5. Encourage them to look at the bright side.

After someone tells you about his or her awful experience or how someone else is to blame for what happened, respond by saying, “What did you learn from that situation?” or “What do you think you would do differently next time?” This encourages them to realize that they have power to change things for the better, and that they are not helpless.

For some people, making negative comments can be a cry for help. Underneath, they may be feeling pain, sadness, or anger, and they don’t know how to recognize or communicate these emotions in a healthy way. Sometimes people have been abused or have very low self-confidence. If they are showing signs of depression or you are worried that they might hurt themselves, offer to get them to professional help as soon as possible. Always be respectful and show patience. You could be helping that person more than you realize.

6. If the relationship is toxic or abusive and starts to lower your self-esteem, walk away.

Having healthy boundaries with people is important to our wellness. When negative adults cross the line and start to be disrespectful to you, remember that you are not responsible for changing or helping them.

Let go of negative people. They only show up to share complaints, problems, disastrous stories, fear, and judgment on others. If somebody is looking for a bin to throw all their trash into, make sure it’s not in your mind.” – Dalai Lama

Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is a licensed therapist with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.

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