Have you ever felt drained by a person after spending time with them, as though they’ve sucked the joy and life out of you? Or maybe if you’re honest, you can be that way sometimes. We all deal with negative thoughts, but some people just seem to live in a permanent negative state of mind.
If there’s someone in your life who is constantly a Negative Nancy, you may need to find some strategies to help you healthfully deal with that person. Dreana from The Praying Woman offers several tips for us when it comes to dealing with negative or difficult people.
First, find a balance between being there for the person vs. justifying their bad behavior. You want to offer compassion without supporting their choice to behave badly.
Second, remember the numbers. Don’t take mental health for granted—those with negative attitudes have significantly higher rates of stress and disease, Dreana writes. If they’re making life difficult for you, they’re making it even worse for themselves (another reason to offer compassion).
Her third and fourth points are: don’t try to fix them, because the reality is they may not want to be fixed. “I know my depressed* friend will rant about life’s injustices as long as I let her. Part of me feels tempted to play amateur psychiatrist…” Dreana writes. “Then I remind myself that I can’t change her whole way of being in one phone call. She has to want that.”
We all want to fix problems; it feels good when we can help someone out (see the next point). But it’s impossible to change someone who doesn’t want to change, and we can make ourselves miserable or totally frustrated trying to do so.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, Dreana challenges us to question what we’re trying to get out of being in a relationship with a negative person. “Have you fallen into a caretaker role because it makes you feel needed? Have you maintained the relationship so you can gossip about this person in a holier-than-thou way with others? Do you have some sort of stake in keeping the things the way they are?” Taking a step back from the negativity might be necessary to regain perspective as to why you’re even friends with such a decidedly cranky individual.
On the flip side, what if you’re the negative person in all your relationships? The good news is, your attitude is a choice. “Our thought patterns have become so ingrained and habitual... that we don't "feel" like we are making choices in how we react to life experiences- but we are,” say Kevin and Kay Marie Brennfleck in their article, Alter Your Attitude to Change Your Circumstances. They recommend working to “re-frame” our experiences, deliberately changing the way we look at life in order to focus on the positives in each situation.
“A positive frame on life doesn't 'just happen,'" they write. “We have to create it intentionally on a daily basis. Developing a positive, optimistic attitude is challenging. We have to work at monitoring and changing our self-talk, and may have to re-frame how we see ourselves as well our perceptions of past, present and future events in our lives. We do have the power to change our lives by changing our thinking.”
As Christians, we don’t have to fight the battle of negativity alone. If you struggle with negativity or have a negative person in your life, surrender those feelings or that person to God and challenge yourself to find things to be thankful and hopeful for everyday.
*To be clear, there is a difference between someone who needs to have an attitude adjustment and someone who struggles with depression or mental illness. Dreana uses the word “depressed” here, but depression is more complicated than just having a negative attitude. The suggestions above may not help someone struggling with mental illness; professional help may be necessary.
Kelly Givens is the editor of iBelieve.com.