We’ve all, at some point, felt frustrated by someone who seems constantly negative, who complains, gets offended by small things, or is often angry or pessimistic.
They can drain us of energy and even turn our minds towards negativity as well.
One commonly suggested solution is to cut these people from your life. And yes, if they are harming you, or you just cannot get to a healthy mental place with them, that may be a necessary.
But there’s another option: learning to find an opportunity for growth in this negative person.
This person may be a loved one who is hurting. And you know what it’s like to hurt. You may be hurting right now (because of them).
When this person is critical of you, you feel stung—otherwise, you wouldn’t be frustrated or irritated with them for being negative.
You’re reacting to them in the same way they’re reacting to you—with negativity. You’re both feeling similar pain and frustration.
You see how their negativity affects you. And it’s reasonable to expect you don’t want to do the same to others. You can also see how this negativity festers and makes them unhappy, and you don’t want that for yourself.
And so the change must start with you. If you don’t want to be negative, can you be loving and positive towards this person?
A Practice for Neutralizing Negative People
Here’s how you might work with the energy of a negative person:
- See this person’s pain with compassion. They’re feeling stress, pain, unhappiness, insecurity, uncertainty, and so on. You know what it’s like to feel these things. See the negativity as an old habit that is masking their pain. See if you can feel compassion for their suffering.
- See that they have an old pattern that is unhelpful. Their pattern, when they feel this pain, is to lash out, complain, criticize, or stew in negativity. You can see, with compassion, that they are stuck in this old pattern. And you, just like everyone else, have old unhelpful patterns that are tough to get rid of. In this way, the two of you are connected.
- Feel love for them. If this person is a loved one, it’s especially helpful to practice pouring your love out to them, even if you say nothing. Just feeling it in your heart is enough. Whether they feel it or not, it transforms you. You then shift how you are towards them, coming from a place of love. If this person is a colleague or even a person you don’t know well, you still have a chance to feel compassion for them. This heart-opening shift is worth the discomfort. It is growth.
- See the beauty in them, and love that as well. They have negativity, but they also have a beautiful heart and amazing qualities that are obscured by the negativity. See this beauty, behold their hurting heart, and truly see the miracle of this human being.
- See the deliciousness in their negative energy. When someone is being negative, there is an energy that is pouring from them to you. We may not like it, but that can change. We can open up to this energy, savor it, and learn to appreciate its nuances. We can find the deliciousness in it, drop our repulsion of it, and see it anew. It’s just an experience, like the sensations of basking in the sun, or a breeze on your skin. Relish this experience, and you’ll be open to a much wider range of experience than before.
It’s a transformative practice that will shift your relationship with others. And when someone gives you negative energy, you can delight in the opportunity this gives you to practice.
Very Important Caveats
With all that said, there are some important counterpoints to remember:
- It’s absolutely OK to set boundaries. If you need to protect yourself from getting hurt, or need time alone, speak up for your boundaries. It’s OK to protect yourself. It’s only from this place of being protected and having boundaries that we can do this work.
- You can also gift them with honesty. If the person is overly negative, critical, playing the victim, and so on, it’s OK to tell them how their negativity affects others. This honesty can be done from a place of compassion and non-judgment.
- You can do the same kind of work for yourself. When you see your own pain, your own negativity, feel love for yourself, and see the deliciousness in your own energy.
- It’s OK to not practice this “perfectly.” You might not always find their negative energy delicious. You might not always find compassion for them. That’s OK. See if you can find glimpses of compassion, flashes of love, nibbles of deliciousness. Practice in whatever capacity you can, and see what happens!
Leo Babauta is the author of six books, the writer of “Zen Habits,” a blog with over 2 million subscribers, and the creator of several online programs to help you master your habits. Visit ZenHabits.net