Someone asked, “How do I deal with a negative loved one?” at one of my recent presentations. Their loved one would focus on the negative and endlessly complain about it.
This is a difficult situation, because you care about this person. But it’s not your place to be their wailing wall. They get to vent their frustration, but if they don’t do anything to change the situation, it’s not helping them, and it’s certainly not helping you.
Being around a negative person is bound to drag down your positive mood. So whether the loved one is a friend, sibling, parent or spouse, you need to protect your emotional balance. Here is a strategy I suggest to those with this problem. It works with spouses, parents, friends and others.
1. Let them vent for a few minutes. You could even acknowledge that they feel upset, resentful, helpless or whatever the case may be. Don’t try to change their point of view. Not only will it not help, but also you’re not responsible for making them feel better.
2. After a few minutes, excuse yourself and go do something else. Make sure they can’t follow you to continue to spout their grievances. Separate yourself from them and stay away for at least half an hour.
3. If it’s appropriate return to their presence. They may have calmed down by now, and changed the course of their discourse. If they’ve improved their mood and you feel more comfortable being with them, stick around. However, if they start complaining again, repeat the above steps.
If you’re on a phone call with them, listen for a few minutes as in step 1. After a short time, say you have to go and hang up. Don’t call them back for at least an hour and follow the remaining steps.
This may seem difficult, especially if you’re visiting someone for a short time. It may not seem fair to leave them so quickly. But it’s not fair of them to dump their complaints on you.
The purpose of this exercise is to let their subconscious know that you won’t tolerate very much of their negativity. When they’re more neutral or positive, you’ll be more likely to keep them company. Don’t tell them what you’re doing. It’s much more effective to let their subconscious figure it out for itself.
You train people how to treat you. They’ve learned that you’ll give them attention when they’re negative. You may spend time trying to make them feel better. If you take that attention away, and give them attention when they’re nicer to be around, they’ll eventually figure it out.
At the very least, you’ll have reduced the time you have to be around a negative person. And you’ll find your positive outlook easier to maintain.
~ Linda-Ann Stewart