Nicole Iacovoni, LCSW
How to Cope with Negative People
Updated: Apr 2, 2022
Have you ever encountered someone who is chronically negative? Negative people will often complain about their circumstances, blame others for their problems, make harsh judgements about other people and the way they live their lives, and take little ownership of their own feelings and reactions. Oddly enough, many people lack awareness of their negativity, yet don’t understand why they aren’t happy.
We’ve all encountered negative people in our lives, and it’s no big deal when it’s someone we never have to see again, like the teller at the bank or the grouchy guy in line behind us. It’s different when we’re obligated to have an ongoing relationship with a negative person though. We can’t always run away from or avoid our boss, our spouse, our neighbor, or a family member. There are bound to be situations in which we’re forced to be in their company, and when we are, it’s hard to keep their negativity from rubbing off on us.
So, how does one prevent “negativity contamination”? How does one cope with negative people while still maintaining your own personal sense of integrity, dignity, and self esteem? How do we protect ourselves from being sucked into negativity or engaging in the drama often created by negative people?
Before we dive into some concrete strategies for coping with negative people, let me first bring your attention to an important point of consideration: At one time or another, we’ve all been “that guy”. No one is immune to negativity. We all have bad days. We all have times when we vent, complain, or bitch about someone who we feel did us wrong. We all have times when we stir up drama, whether we’re aware of it or not. Sometimes YOU are the negative person. So, the first thing to remember when you’re dealing with a chronically negative person is that it’s not you vs. them. There is no “other” here. We’re all the same. The only difference that exists between people is the frequency, intensity, and awareness of the negativity.
Now, if you regularly have contact with a chronically negative person, you need a game plan to help you cope. It’s not easy to repel the negative energy that radiates from the perpetually negative people in our lives, but it’s possible.
Here’s some tips to help you cope with negative people in a kind, compassionate way:
1. Don’t take it personally.
What other people say and do is because of them; not because of you. Some people have a natural tendency to react negatively to, well, everything! But you aren’t doing anything to cause that negative response; they’re choosing to react that way (whether they have conscious awareness of the choice they’re making or not). By not taking it personally, you’re freeing yourself from needless suffering, and their upset doesn’t become yours.
2. Choose empathy over judgement.
When you’re listening to someone rant and rave about how much everything sucks, it’s natural to feel annoyed, especially if you pride yourself on trying to stay positive. It’s easy to judge people who complain a lot and see them as ungrateful or purely pessimistic. Rather than form these harsh judgements (which is basically a sign that YOU’RE being negative!), try to have empathy instead. Think about what it might be like to walk a day in their shoes. Maybe they’re facing obstacles and challenges they don’t yet know how to deal with. We’ve all been there, right?! You might be able to see the silver lining in their situation, but they might not yet see it. When you choose empathy over judgement, you maintain you’re own integrity, and the loving energy that flows from you as a result of that can have a calming effect on the person who’s being negative.
3. Find the good.
This tip ties into the previous one. When someone is all wrapped up in their circumstances, they get tunnel vision. They can only see what’s directly in front of them, and what they see is often all the hardship and struggle they’re going through. As someone who isn’t so close to the situation, you might be able to find the good in their situation much easier than they can. When you help a negative person find the good in their lives, it shifts their mindset and expands their vision to see that more options exist for them than they previously thought were possible. Sometimes, this one small action can help them break out of the negativity they're stuck in. If they choose to keep paying attention to the bad though, that’s on them, and you can rest easy knowing that you acted with kindness and helpfulness.
4. Notice the ego.
The ego part of the mind is the part that REACTS. It reacts to the world, to our circumstances, to other people, and to ourselves. The ego is irrational, power hungry, and sees everything in all-or-nothing, black-or-white terms. We all have an ego, and it flares up from time to time, convincing us that we’re right and they’re wrong, we’re better than others, and we need to put people in their place and teach them a lesson. The ego loves to hate. It hates other people, and sometimes, it makes us hate ourselves. It feeds on creating enemies in our lives, and it can turn you against someone in an instant without you even being aware that it’s happening.
Because everyone has an ego, we’re all susceptible to it taking control over us and causing us to think and act irrationally. When you observe someone being really negative, what you’re observing is the ego taking over them. When you’re being negative, the ego is taking over you. It happens to everyone, and the only way to take back control of your thoughts and feelings is to notice the ego at work and call it out. When you stand back and see the ego for what it is, you take away it’s power, and it can no longer control you. Very few people know this trick though, so remember this when you’re coping with chronically negative people. The ego is not who we truly are. When someone is thinking and behaving in a negative way, it’s not a reflection of their true essence or character. Rather, their negative thoughts and behaviors are most likely a indicator their ego is taking over and they don’t have awareness of it.
5. Take time to recover.
Even if you practice all these tips, you’re bound to feel exhausted after being in the company of a negative person. They have a way of sucking the life out of us due to their tendency of making life overly hard and complicated. When you’re dealing with a negative person on a regular basis, you need to take time to recover and restore your own positive energy once it’s depleted. The way to go about doing so will look different for everyone. When I feel drained by negative energy, I go for long walks with my dog, meditate, listen to music, journal, or sit quietly and hold in my mind all my blessings to stir up feelings of deep gratitude. This helps me mentally and emotionally recalibrate and helps me to remember that I’m in control of my thoughts, feelings, and responses at all times.
Every single moment, you choose how to respond. You’re in complete control of the way you perceive other people and the world and the reactions you have to everything you experience. You have the power to choose how you’ll respond to negativity. Will you engage in it? Will you feel angered by it? Will you take that negativity on and store it? Will you let it roll off of you? Will you diffuse it? You can’t control other people or how they choose to respond, as much as you might like to. Everyone has free will, and it isn’t our job to go around trying to change people. However, you can practice these tips for coping with negativity and feel a deeper sense of control over your own feelings about the people you’re interacting with, regardless of how they choose to respond. Furthermore, by being aware of your own reactions and when the ego tries to take over, you’ll be better at preventing negativity in yourself. In essence, you’ll start being the change you want to see, which is truly the best way to influence negative people to make positive changes.