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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