If you’ve ever lived with or shared an important portion of your day with a highly negative person, you know how draining it is. No matter how positive your attitude is or how much you try to protect yourself emotionally, they end up having some sort of impact on you. I’m in this situation now (and was raised by very negative people), so I took some time to think about it and see just how it’s affecting me, hoping that understanding things better will help. This is what I found:
1. They unload their problems on you. Sharing difficulties is a common thing among friends and family (and sometimes strangers), and there’s nothing wrong with it, of course. After all, having a support system and someone to talk to is very important. However, it shouldn’t become a burden. Negative people have an ability to not only tell you the specifics, but to convey their deep, negative emotions very effectively. So what starts as sharing their problems, ends up as transferring their negative emotions over to you. If you’re very empathic or sensitive, chances are you’ll end up feeling as if their problems are your own.
What to do? My strategy is to differentiate my problems and their problems in my mind. It’s okay to feel sympathy for them, but you shouldn’t adopt their problems as your own. You have enough going on already.
2. Their emotions are contagious. Negativity, anxiety and stress are all contagious feelings. So are joy, happiness and enthusiasm. Being close to a negative person for extended periods of time will wear you down, and probably cause you to start thinking negatively yourself. Sometimes all it takes is one conversation, and you’ll be in a bad mood for the rest of the day.
What to do? Do things to develop and sustain your good mood. Meditate, go jogging, work out, do yoga; or dedicate at least fifteen minutes every day to a hobby you love, whatever it is. It will relax you and remind you that there are good things in life, too.
3. They become emotionally dependant. It doesn’t always happen, but if your relationship is close, the negative person will start depending on you. They will want to share their negativity every time they feel it, and they’ll expect a strong reaction out of you -even if one isn’t warranted. They’ll want you to make decisions for them and be available at all times to pander their needs. And they will complain if you choose not to accommodate them.
What to do? Don’t rush to indulge their requests every time, especially when they aren’t rational. Be your own person and react in the same way you would if it was a normal situation.
4. They say no to everything. No matter what you suggest that might make their lives easier, they say no (and often end up contradicting themselves as well). They don’t want to go for a walk, they don’t want to stay home, they don’t want to have coffee, they don’t want to see a therapist, they don’t want to try yoga, they don’t want to rest more, they don’t want to get out of bed, they don’t want to meet with their friends, they don’t want to find a new job, they don’t want to read a book, they don’t want to try to see things differently, they don’t want to, they don’t want, they don’t, no. Whatever comes out of your mouth will be met with a negative answer. They’ll probably get frustrated with your suggestions, thinking you don’t understand them, and complain about that, too.
What to do? For the time being, stop expecting them to agree with you. It’s hard for them to see things in a positive light. They’re going to say no to most of what you say, and it’s best for you to make your peace with that.
5. They don’t respect your own needs and wishes. This is perhaps the most damaging aspect. They might care about you, but they are terrible at showing it. Because they expect to be your first priority in life, they will constantly demand your time, though not always in an obvious way. Their demands can be very subtle, but effective. Pay attention to how many times you end up postponing your own life in order to attempt to help them. How much are you sacrificing? Social life? Time dedicated to work? Alone time? Sleep? They’re taking it all.
What to do? Set some limits. They’re not going to like it, but it needs to be done. Be as explicit as necessary. Some example phrases: I need to finish some work or my boss will get mad at me; I haven’t slept enough in weeks; I need time to meet with my friends and relax. Again, they’re probably not going to like it; let them. You deserve time to relax and to take care of your responsibilities.