It’s surprising how quickly your mood can change from being upbeat to upset after spending some time with someone who’s grumpy or pessimistic. Even if you consider yourself to be a positive or optimistic person, it can be difficult to not let the emotions of those around you affect how you’re feeling. We definitely all need time and space to process and express negative emotions safely, and it’s completely normal to not be feeling 100% all of the time. However, dwelling on these negative emotions for too long can have adverse effects on your mental and physical wellbeing. We don’t want to miss out on life’s opportunities just because someone around us doesn’t think it’s worth our time. We deserve to make our own choices. With that in mind, how do you stay positive around negative people?
Figure out what pushes your buttons
Different people will no doubt be bothered by different things. Try to take note of what kinds of situations, people, or behaviours tend to dampen your mood. Identifying these triggers help you avoid scenarios that are bound to make you uncomfortable when possible; not only that, sometimes simply bringing awareness to something can help you see how it affects your mood in a more objective way, making you less likely to get wrapped up in the negative emotions that come with it.
Stick to the facts
This can be really hard sometimes, but try your best to approach the situation from a rational, logical perspective rather than an emotional one. This means asking yourself, “What is this person trying to tell me? What is their message?”. If you take away their negative attitude, tone of voice, or perhaps an air of passive aggression, what are the objective facts of what they’re saying? Strip away the interpersonal and emotional offenses they might have caused – and let what remains be your guide. When you get involved in an emotional, reactive, back-and-forth with someone, this will hang over your head for longer than if you just paid attention to the objective facts of the situation. If you’re letting your emotions get weighed down by an interaction with a negative person, you will carry it with you longer and you’ll ruminate. Then, the negative people you’re resenting will have succeeded in bringing you down into their negative spiral. You want to rise above the negative emotions here and more intentionally choose how you want your mental state to feel.
Don’t take it personally
Remember – hurt people hurt people. If it seems like someone is reacting completely unfairly towards you, or something you did is blown way out of proportion – pay attention to the words the person who is criticizing you is using. Are they calling out your character traits and personality characteristics? Are they using phrases like, “you always do this….” or “you never do this….”. If they are, chances are their reaction towards you has more to do with them than you. A common defense mechanism we use is to bring other people down when we’re feeling bad – this is what creates pessimistic, negative environments. Negative people have usually been hurt in some way – their trust that “things will be ok” has been violated, and they don’t believe they have the internal strength to get through it when goals that fall through. As Clinical Psychologist Dr. Joan Rosenberg so accurately states, pessimism can be thought of as “preemptive disappointment.” Negative people have often been disappointed enough that assuming something won’t work before they even start is their way of emotionally protecting themselves. Hence, it has nothing to do with you and shouldn’t be sucking up your time and emotional capacity.
Know when to push back
If your waiter’s negative attitude at a restaurant is getting on your nerves, it’s probably best just to decide to let it go. This is a one-off situation and you don’t have to be with this person every day. If your boss or subordinate, however, is the negative person you’re dealing with regularly, you’ll need to decide whether it’s worth pushing back on, or if you want to just find ways to avoid being affected by their pessimism. Either one is a good strategy, depending on how much work you want to put into changing the situation versus changing how you perceive it. When you choose to change your perception, your emotions will change. You can choose how to interpret an event, and gain ultimate freedom over how you process and react to it.
Remember that it’s okay to step away
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember that it’s totally okay (and actually really important!) to set boundaries that protect your own wellbeing. You probably won’t be the best support when you’re feeling burnt out anyway, so if you’re feeling like you need to remove yourself from the situation to ground yourself and calm down before you reapproach the situation, honour that and take a breather.
It goes both ways!
If someone else’s mood can affect how you’re feeling, remember that your mood can also affect how someone else is feeling. When trying to be supportive, it’s important to acknowledge what the other person is going through rather than be dismissive for the sake of unconditional positivity. However, being supportive while maintaining your positive and constructive outlook may just be what was needed to lift the rain cloud from above their head.
Don’t forget to check-in with yourself
Especially if you’re an empathetic person, it can be difficult not to get wrapped up in other people’s experiences when they choose to share what’s going on for them. However, it’s important to take a moment and a deep breath to check-in with yourself and remember that you are an individual. Keep in mind that, while you can certainly empathize with their pain, you don’t have to take it all on yourself. You can be supportive while still remembering that you are not the one going through the difficult situation or emotions they’re experiencing.
Dealing with negative people can be tough, especially when you’re incredibly passionate about your goals. Listening to others say why your ideas won’t work is more their problem than yours, so listen to your gut and follow your passions. If they don’t pan out, they don’t pan out, but at least you gave it your all. The answer is always no if you don’t try.