Often times, I hear the women clients I work with apologize for being “negative.” These are typically nice, kind people who are working hard on their lives and on themselves. They are mostly growth oriented and proactive. They are so clear on the negative impact of people who exhibit toxic behavior that they don’t want to burden others by leaving them drained, exhausted, and depleted. These women avoid ALL possibilities of being negative to their own detriment. They find themselves unsure of what to do or where to put their negative feelings and thoughts. They struggle to decipher the difference between being a negative person and a growth-oriented person.
People who display negativity are those that are chronically dumping their negative thoughts and emotions onto nearby bystanders. They are not looking for solutions. You’ve learned this by now. You’ve invested countless hours in listening and providing advice that they don’t follow. You leave drained and exhausted and nothing changes. In fact, if you solve their problem, they’ll just pay attention to their next impossible problem on their list of 1,000. It’s not really about the problem. It’s about the underlying way they view themselves and the world. It’s everyone else’s fault and they are the helpless victim. They’re looking everywhere else but in the mirror. Underneath it all, they’re just scared, insecure, and need love. And yet, ironically, their toxicity pushes everyone away. Or, it draws other negative people in. Perhaps they feel validated in being stuck?
Validation is a human need that we all have.
Those with a growth mindset understand the healthy need to be seen, known, and understood. They access their humility and seek close relationships, intimacy, and honest feedback. Those with a negative mindset use validation as an excuse to stay stuck. If you see my struggle, then it’s real. I have a right to be miserable. Even though I’m miserable, it’s what I know. If you acknowledge it also, then my misery is validated. It’s easier to be validated in misery than it is to deal with fear and helplessness. Dealing with these feelings is part of the process in gaining the ownership required in order to move forward and grow.
On the flip side, the person who exhibits growth mindedness uses life experiences to learn, grow and expand. She experiences negative feelings or thoughts she is open to feel and process them. Sometimes she does this on her own through quiet reflection or by writing in a journal, talking with a coach, counselor, advisor, or friend. She seeks to examine and understand the negative emotions and move forward. She knows her emotions have an impact on others. She is thoughtful and mindful with whom she talks with and when. She asks permission to vent to others. She vents to them not at them. She owns her negative frustrations as her own and doesn’t blame others – even when she is infuriated. She knows it’s part of being human to have negative emotions and thoughts. She doesn’t create a narrative out of the emotion. This person can access her humility and apologize when she imposes her “stuff” on other people.
With clients, I call the act of processing negative thoughts and emotions dumping the trash. We do it together as often as the client needs. Our intention is to honor her humanity and then step into the growth.
What do you do about people who exhibit chronic negative behavior? Here are some ways to operate from a place of compassion while keeping your sanity and health in tact. Remember it’s about practice, not perfection.IT TAKES TIME TO BUILD A NEW HABIT.
– Know your limits: You might have physical and emotional alerts that go off when you’re engaging with someone exhibiting excessive negative behavior. These are the signs that you are hitting your limits. You might feel your breath get short, or your stomach or chest tighten. Will you respond? Will you take care of YOU in this situation? You do not need to needlessly suffer for someone else to be happy. If it is not usually an equal give and take, it is not an equal relationship.
You’re the CEO of you, and no one is going to take care of you if you don’t. It’s your job. Consider that before you abandon your positive nature and give all your energy to someone else leaving yourself depleted. There are certainly times where we will be of service and put ourselves out for others. Chances are if you’re someone that struggles with your boundaries, you don’t know where to draw the line. If you’re only ever giving, then ask yourself: What has me playing my part of this dynamic?
– Input boundaries: Once you know your limits, you can practice knowing what you can give and when you need to stop in advance. For example, you will decide that you will only be on the phone call for 15 minutes. You only have 1 hour for lunch with this person. You can take on x amount of the project and that is all.
This will feel uncomfortable at first because you’re used to giving up your needs for the sake of others. You might struggle with the fear of being a bad person or friend. Remember, boundaries are healthy because you are taking care of you and not neglecting your needs for someone else’s sake. People might not like your boundaries because they are not used to them. Are you going to give up your boundary to avoid someone being mad or upset? Consider that it is enabling bad behavior.
– Show compassion & loving kindness: Clearly you care about this person on some level. Either they’re a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or direct report. Are you willing to see the scared child inside of this person? What are you like when you feel scared or helpless? We often problem solve because we can’t take another person suffering (at first). Then we can’t take their incessant complaining and negativity and we just want that to stop. Compassion has nothing to do with fixing the person or saving them from their circumstances. Compassion just says: I can see you’re struggling. I feel for you. I can feel for you and have my boundaries of what is healthy for me. You can have both compassion and boundaries. Think tough love, which is being true to yourself as well.
– Put them in the driver’s seat: Refuse to take this on emotionally as your burden to carry. Ask questions like “How can I help you?”, “What are you going to do about it?” If it’s a staff member and you are in a leadership role, you can set the expectation of behavior and attitude and hold that person accountable to it.
Show your support: Doing this will be more powerful than you think. It shows your good will towards the person and expresses your inner light. You could say something like “I’m rooting for you!” or “I hope it works out!”
– Give feedback: Sometimes people have no idea how they are coming across. Lovingly and constructively sharing your experience of a person might be a great gift to them. This is a great way to test the strength of the relationship. It might go really well and bring you closer. It might backfire and make the tension worse. It might end the relationship. You decide if the risk is worth the reward. What a great opportunity for you to practice direct feedback. If you are in a position of leadership, have the courage to confront the attitude and behavior of the person exhibiting chronic negative behavior. If you do not, this behavior can do damage to a work environment or team. It will likely have a negative impact on the business itself. Whatever you do, do not ignore it. Your people and business will suffer due to your negligence. Be the boss and set the standards of how people behave and treat each other. Or, the person exhibiting chronic negative behavior will set them for you.
– Refer them to a therapist: For personal relationships, you could say that you have engaged with a counselor or you know someone who has had a similar situation and they got great results. The person might be offended or shut down the idea all together. Or they may go ahead and do it and be grateful for the recommendation. It’s up to that person what they want to do. If this is a staff member or a colleague in the workplace, you could simply point them to HR or other employee resources.
– Limit or end the relationship: Simply do not engage with the person as much as possible. If it’s a colleague or family member, take as much space as possible. Work on your mindset, compassion, forgiveness work, and boundaries. If it’s a colleague, see what can be done about limiting your exposure to that person. If you are in a leadership role, consider that this person might not be a culture fit. Come up with your timeline of what changes you need to see and when. If needed, create an exit plan.
Wish them well: Wishing that person well will create an uplifting experience when the person comes to mind. Rather than focusing on how toxic they feel to you or how frustrated you are with them. This way, the negative impact is not the main focus (furthering your feelings of negativity). You could say to yourself or out loud: I wish him/her well. I hope they get what they need. I hope they find happiness, comfort and joy. If you’re a person who prays, consider praying for their well being.
– Think about one thing you like about that person: Another way to shift out of the negative impact of someone who behaves negatiely, is to think about something you like about them. We all have different and unique sides and qualities. Most likely there’s something about them that is cool, unique, or that you enjoy. Focusing on that part will help you follow the other practices and aid you in focusing your attention to something positive. Are they silly or funny? Smart or clever? Have a talent or skill you admire? This will help you “do you” and get back into your own flow and focus.
– Let the person mentally go: Sometimes we’ll find ourselves circling over and over again on the interaction we had with the person. Accessing compassion, wishing them well, and limiting or severing the relationship will help with this. Those of us who are care-takers will really struggle with this part. Remember to hold others as capable and whole. You will be amazed at how they can survive without you worrying and taking care of them. If you are harboring resentment towards them, do your own inner work on that resentment. Holding them responsible to fix that for you by changing their behavior only makes you powerless.
Having a growth mindset means embracing our humanity. It means expanding our understanding and compassion as we navigate this world, people, and situations. This is especially important given our current state with Covid-19. Thank you for your big hearts and desire to have others have a happy and fulfilling experience of life. It can be heartbreaking at times that we can not do the work for others. If we think about that further, there’s much beauty and freedom in that too.
Wishing you beauty and peace on your journey.