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7 Ways to Stay Positive Around Negative People

Photo by Daniel Zedda
It takes but one positive thought when given a chance to survive and thrive to overpower an entire army of negative thoughts. ~Dr. Robert H. Schuller

Have you ever felt trapped in a negative, toxic environment? Did you feel overwhelmed by the negativity, and were you unable to shield yourself from it?

If so, you’re not alone.

Some time ago, I was in an environment that was so toxic that I almost quit my job. I was trapped among endless gossip, mean-spiritedness and backstabbing. I worked every day feeling like I was in self-preservation mode.

My character is strong, resilient and caring, but my work environment made me question that. I thought my positivity would spread to others and be enough to at least slightly improve their outlook — right?

Unfortunately, I was wrong.

And after several months of this toxic environment, I couldn’t stay optimistic about my situation any longer. My positive energy was depleted, and the negativity started to seep into my soul and poison me as well.

I didn’t want to feel defeated, but could I really continue to fight against this day after day? Staying in a slump was uncharacteristic of me, so I knew something had to change. I knew I had to rise above to stay true to myself or else be forced to work elsewhere.

The Night I Took Control

During a night of deep contemplation and feeling sick to my stomach for having to face another day, I decided to tackle the situation with a perspective change. I took myself out of the box and changed from fighting against the environment to logically facing it with objective understanding.

There had to be a reason why this environment sustained this amount of negativity for so long, even before I got hired. I began to look at it from an observer’s point of view.

The first step was to stop describing my day using words such as fighting, protecting and shielding and replace them with proactive words such as analyzing, observing and adapting.

It’s cliché, but the honest truth is that having balance in all things, including emotions, is a source of true happiness. And if someone or many people are keeping your emotions off balance and bringing you down to their dark side, it is crucial to learn how to handle them.

Here are ways to handle negative people so their negative energy doesn’t consume you:

1. Listen with Ears of Empathy

Consistently negative people are deeply pained. Instead of protecting yourself from them, change your perspective to understanding them. Something, whether it’s extreme self-consciousness, heartache, or a loss, is so deep that it consumes them.

In the end, they are just looking for comfort. Sure, they seek comfort in a twisted way, but it is a cry for help.

Instead of disdain, try to see through the negativity to reveal their pain, and turn the situation around by asking, “How are you?” or, “Is everything okay?” The result may lead to the person snapping back, or it could be just the outreach they need to know someone heard their cry.

I’ve experienced both but was better for it because that person stopped dragging me down into their misery since I had been the only person who had actually asked them how they were feeling.

You don’t have to be their best friend, but trust that sometimes the smallest gesture could be the biggest source of change.

2. Keep Things Brief

Negativity feeds off attention. Without attention, the negativity dies.

If you must deal with someone that is negative, keep things brief and to the point. Just being around a negative person’s energy alone can be draining.

So if you can’t get around it and you have to communicate with them, think of yourself as being a mere visitor in their space. Communicate, but don’t engage. Like visiting a foreign land, you observe and respect the culture but don’t necessarily adopt it as your own.

By keeping things brief, you’re respecting yourself by realizing that your time is precious too, with no room for unnecessary negative energy.

3. Tell Them the Truth

Tell the incessantly negative person in a calm, rational manner that you can’t continue to talk to them unless they stop being so negative. This is not for the faint of heart, and it might not work for all situations, but it does strengthen your nerves and empowers you to take charge of your own feelings.

Sometimes people need a mirror put in front of them to show them their ways. This is a way to actively set boundaries so that the negative person realizes you don’t want to be part of that space.

Again, this one isn’t for the meek, but regardless of the unpredictable outcome of the negative person’s reaction, celebrate the fact that you took control of your feelings by expressing how you felt.

Nobody can fault you for being true to yourself.

4. Focus on Positivity Triggers

For those who are especially empathetic (I’m one of them), sometimes self-talk and rationalization isn’t enough to eliminate the negativity. This is where having an arsenal of positivity triggers can quickly bring you back to your positive self.

For example, I love music, so when I listen to one of my favorite songs, it quickly eliminates the negativity.

Here are some other examples:

  • Having a list of self-empowering quotes to read
  • Reading or hearing something that makes you laugh or smile
  • Reading an inspirational person’s story
  • Talking to a positive friend

In a magic show it’s called misdirection; in life it’s called redirection. When you redirect your thoughts, you aren’t dismissing them but rather moving past them so they don’t consume you.

5. Realize Negativity is a Comfort Zone

I know this sounds absurd. Why would anyone want to be negative?

Strange as it sounds, some negative people find comfort in being negative. Sometimes people are brought up and raised in a negative home, so their reality is defined by negativity. They know no other way to be.

I worked with someone who unnecessarily stressed out everyone every day because it felt wrong to them when they didn’t have anything to stress about.

If they are unaware of what it feels like to be surrounded by positivity, it can be a foreign feeling. They will try to influence you subconsciously and pull you into their world.

Take comfort in knowing you don’t have to be part of that world, and be aware of your own reality. Again, think of yourself as a traveler experiencing someone else’s world, but always return to your positive home.

6. Don’t Engage in Conflict

Don’t waste your energy by being part of the conflict. I used to get involved every time someone was negative to try to diffuse or lessen their influence on others, but it drained my energy as well.

It’s okay to not get involved. In fact, not engaging in the drama saves you from expending energy unnecessarily. You have more important things to spend your time on. Nowadays, more energy is something we all need.

Save your energy. Don’t get involved. Politely walk away.

7. Grow Stronger From Negative People

In all experiences, there is a seed of wisdom. Look at negative people and grow from them.

Experiences with negative people can teach you to:

  • Solidify who is really important in your life and why
  • Learn to let go of people who bring you down
  • Be resilient to negativity

Most of us are hard-wired to feel emotion first rather than use logic to assess our experiences. Take a moment and find the lessons of your experiences that make life the interesting journey it’s supposed to be.

You Can Handle Negative People and Thrive

As a result of that night of deep contemplation, I was able to stay employed. I also realized the seven ways mentioned above that help me to maintain a positive outlook on life. Negative people don’t run your life.

You are in total control of how you feel if you can change your perspective on how you deal with them. Experiencing positive and negative emotions is a fact of life, but you don’t need to let someone else control how you feel.

Someone once said that experiencing life is like surfing. Whether it’s a good or bad day of surfing, you keep coming back to the beach to surf because it’s so damn fun. If you want to ride those waves with stride, don’t allow a negative person to steal your surfboard and your fun.

You have seven ways to thrive among negative people. Which one will you do right now?

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About the author

Melissa Lopez is motivated and committed to helping people build confidence and stamp out their self-limiting beliefs with her personal development blog Bold Steps for a Big Life. Get your free resource 5 Books That Will Help You Step Out of Your Comfort Zone.

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6 thoughts on 7 Ways to Stay Positive Around Negative People

  1. Nirupama

    I found this article insightful and extremely relevant. I think all of us do face negativity at some point in our lives; worse, we could be a part of the negativity ourselves!

    Leaving the issue unresolved leads to a ripple effect in the long run.

  2. I’d go for #7.

    It’s great to hear you stayed employed there. The term “letting go” would mean “leaving” in some cases, where negativity is just rampant that just like you did, people question whether they still have their values, their identity. Having to deal with negative people who you think would be there for a really long time is hard, but your energy, your sanity, your wellbeing is more important than anything else–that’s right. For you can’t “spread” positivity if you don’t genuinely manifest it.

  3. Negative people, of course, helped me grow as a person but sometimes there are too many of them around me. Being among these “negatives” – a real test for any positive person. The worst thing that they will never recognize this and refuse to improve themselves. I have the feeling that they simply like it.

  4. It is only the matter of changing the vision! Just focus on your weaknesses and faults and you will automatically gain control of them to remain happy amidst negativity. It is our intellect that wonders on the weaknesses of others, but they cannot affect you until your ego succumbs to them!

    Thank you

  5. Jo

    Thank you for writing this. I think I use to be a positive person and still do look for the things to enjoy in life, but I had a few bad experiences and struggle to get along with fault finders. I feel like its changed me into someone I’m not so keen on and have gotten into the bad habit of complaining a lot myself. When I am able to connect with more positive people I notice a surge of energy, less anxiety and I feel generally more content in myself. I’ll keep these tips in mind.

  6. Michelle

    This is a great article, and gave me some very helpful tips I will most certainly employ. However … I’m wondering what to do and what works best when the negative person is someone you love dearly and are extremely close to, someone who is part of you and you would never walk away from or let go of from your life? Someone you do have to (and want to) regularly engage with, as you love and care deeply about them and their life, and what they are worried about and going through? That’s what I’m struggling with. Someone I love dearly seems, every time we talk, to focus on what she doesn’t and can’t have (things that would take money, which she doesn’t have and continually mentions), and it’s really wearing on me. She is truly in a bad spot from inheriting a home that has SO many problems, and she is understandably very overwhelmed about how to deal with it all, especially on a limited budget, and it does worry me greatly how everything is going to get dealt with. I always show understanding and sympathy, as I know how important it is to validate what someone is feeling, and I try to be positive, but she turns every comment right back to something negative, and why this or that won’t work, so it’s a dead-end street. I also feel some guilt because, although there are certainly things I don’t have and would like as well, we do have more money and nice things than this person, and we’re very generous with her with gifts and other help, but we simply can’t solve all her problems and give her or take care of all the bigger, more expensive things she wants and needs. So, I end up feeling bad when we spend extra money to take a vacation (a rare thing for us anyway), or buy new clothes or appliances, or even fun hobby things for ourselves like books and music, because I think, “Maybe we should give that money instead to [this person] so she can get that new [whatever] she wants/needs.” It’s very hard for me to clearly see the line sometimes, between what is and is not my responsibility, as I never want to be selfish, and I do want to help, to a degree that is reasonable and which will still allow me to live my life the way I think I deserve to. I’ve offered financial help to her many times, but she always says no, and that she’ll definitely ask if she needs it. She loves us beyond anything, and does seem truly happy for us when we can take a vacation or buy something nice for ourselves, and I’ve flat-out asked her at times (when the complaints increase) if she wants us to help her instead, and she says a big ol’ NO. But then she goes right back to talking about her situation and what she doesn’t have and can’t do and is overwhelmed and stressed about, so it leaves me feeling SO confused about how she really feels! It makes me wonder if she herself is confused to, like she loves us and does truly want us to be happy and enjoy life, but also needs us to know for whatever reason that she’s struggling financially. This person had a lot of love growing up, but was surrounded by a lot of lack-mentality kind of negativity as well, so you’re right, I think for some reason she feels an unconscious need to stay there since maybe it gives her some twisted sense of comfort or some other thing I don’t know how to describe, like some payoff or maybe unconscious agenda (?), even if she’s not aware of it or meaning to create it. And I say “unconscious” because she’s a wonderful person who does have a lot of gratitude for her life and blessings, and she has worked hard on herself in therapy and doesn’t mean to be this way, and on her higher level, doesn’t WANT to be this way, I do know that. I have incredible empathy and sympathy toward her, and I’m very loving and supportive, but again, mentioning what she doesn’t have and what won’t work is just so constant, like she just feels the need for some reason for people to know what she’s struggling with and doing without — and it’s really taking a toll on me. I’ve confronted her with this before, and she takes it pretty well, even though I do think it hurts her to some degree, as she says how grateful she is for everything and that she thinks she’s trying to be positive and is doing better after all the work she’s done on herself, so then I feel bad making her feel like she’s still not where she needs to be even after how far she’s come. She is better in many ways, but this issue I’ve mentioned is still happening so, so much, and lately, in every single conversation we have. So, I feel like it’s just a place where she’s stuck, for whatever reason, and I realize that I don’t have to go into that place with her all the way because it’s for her to navigate and get out of, but again … this is a person I love with all my heart and soul, so I can’t just leave her to struggle through it all with no support. So, I myself am struggling with how to be of support to her and listen and help without engaging in the negativity and letting it bring me down or cause me to worry to the point of stress that’s not healthy for me, or letting it make me feel guilty or responsible when I shouldn’t and am not. It’s such a dilemma. I have no idea if anyone will even read this or respond, and that’s okay if not — I have no expectations, and just found myself looking up this topic really quickly as I’m sitting here having breakfast, and then found myself all of a sudden typing this, when I didn’t even expect to!! But thank you for writing the article, as in any case and whatever happens from here, it did help me to read, and I very much appreciate that. And we’ll all be okay because we have the one thing that matters most in life, and that is the gift of love, which will help us get through anything. :)

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