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As an anxiety therapist in Toronto, I know that most people have at least one person in their life who radiates negativity. That friend, family member, partner, colleague or acquaintance who is singularly focused on what is difficult, unfair or wrong. Try as you may to resist being brought down by their negative energy, the pull can be strong (not to mention emotionally exhausting).

I don’t know whether I’m encountering more people like this lately or whether I’m just more sensitive to them because my bandwidth to deal with challenging things or people is diminished these days.

I suppose the simplest response would be to walk away but that’s not always possible. So, I’ve been thinking about how to better interact with them with compassion and still avoid being sucked into their vortex. In case you’re experiencing something similar and for what it’s worth, here are some strategies I’ve committed to trying out.

Reminding myself that they’re doing the best they can

I try my best to remember that people are doing the best they can. Like an iceberg, we only see what’s above the surface. There could be a whole mess of factors below the waterline that are contributing to the difficult behaviour and that may even warrant it. If someone is making life hard for the people in their circle, you can be pretty sure there is something worse going on for them. When you consider how much a difficult person may be suffering, it makes it easier to find compassion and not take it so personally.

Creating a positive forcefield

Sounds very sci-fi, I know but it really does help to create some boundary for yourself in order to preserve your positive (or at least not-so-negative) space. We all have the ability to control what we will or won’t allow “in.” It may be that someone’s negativity is too strong or you are feeling too vulnerable at any time to protect your space. If that’s the case, excuse yourself and connect another time. If you feel like you’re able to both protect your space and listen compassionately even for a short while, do that. It could disarm their negativity to be met with your care and compassion. But don’t put too much pressure on yourself to “fix” the situation, change their mood or alter their perspectives on life. Just focus on the here and now and what little shifts might be possible in the moment.

Watching your reactions

Ok here’s where I am guilty. For better or worse, negative people tend to gravitate to those who react to them. So, it’s a catch-22 for people who offer compassion easily or who otherwise get outraged with them or on their behalf. As the saying goes, “misery loves company.” Remain aware that is what may be going on here. They may be looking for an ally – a sense maybe that they’re not so alone or that someone “gets it.” It’s tough not to react because we’re human, but if we can temper our reactions, it may have a diffusive effect.

Asking myself what’s in it for me

Whether we realize it or not, we often get something out of our relationships with negative people. Maybe we want to be the sounding board because it keeps us in the know or maybe we want to adopt the caregiver role because it makes us feel needed. Maybe having someone who is suffering so much in our lives makes us feel somewhat better about our own plight. If we are honest with ourselves, we might find that we’ve got some sort of stake in keeping the status quo as it is. Questioning our reasons for staying in it may give us a renewed perspective on how to respond.

It’s no fun bearing the brunt of other peoples’ bad emotions. As much as we wish these people could be more positive, sometimes all we can do is remain hopeful that a shift to greater happiness will eventually happen. And until then, we can work to find the balance of standing by with compassion while tending to our own wellbeing.

Anxiety therapy or therapy for depression may help you if you are struggling. Book an appointment with us today.

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