Identifying and Dealing with Negative People

An encounter with a negative person can either become rapidly upsetting and infuriating.  or it might result in a slower and less well defined response, such as a sadness that does not seem to make sense or feelings of inadequacy that seem to have come out of nowhere. There might be a battle between our feelings of jealousy and our struggle to not give in to jealousy. Or, there may be anger over being forced into an encounter that was more competition or sadistic cruelty than it was an actual interaction with another person.

When the negative people are our own family members or relatives, the forest might be too thick for the trees to be seen! It might take a long time to accept the fact that a family member or relative is toxic because of the never ending pressure to consider families to be more important than anything else in the world, including individual emotional well being.

In some cases, there is straight up mental illness, where the problem person is compelled by some mental disorder to go negative in order to resolve some internal tension or to get satisfaction. In other situations, a person has found out that the negativity works!

Negativity does work when people want to avoid taking actions that are related to past trauma or existing phobias. Negativity works when a person is lying about their problems and refuses to take action to solve them. There is something that they are usually hiding, such as the being after money or having someone to listen to their complaints.  Or they may have already taken the reccommended actions and just want more money from people.

The first step to this complex issue is to identify the form of the negativity. Many times, the negativity is something that we grew up with, so we may be slow to recognize it. Or, we are so good at tuning out the negativity that we do not realize that it has an effect on us until it is too late. Children may believe the excuses for the negativity, having no other source to tell them the truth.  

“Every time that I deal with this person, I feel bad.” is a common statement when there is no clear identification of the negativity. “I can’t seem to do anything that satisfies that person, no matter how hard I try.” is another common statement that gives a more well defined summary of the problem. 

“He or she is just too negative!” is the clearest identification. But as a warning: that statement can work both ways. Sometimes manipulators and bullies will use that statement like a club or knife, or will accuse another of negativity as an excuse for more abusive behavior. Sometime the phrase “you are too negative” is a tool for convincing someone to take an action or to stop doing an activity.

As a result, more is needed in order to cope with negativity. After the negativity is identified, what are the effects? What is the power of the negativity? How much is it hurtful, depressing, discouraging, infuriating, abusive, defamatory or otherwise harmful?

Finally, what is the cause of the negativity? If a supervisor or teacher is consistently far more negative toward certain gender or ethnic groups of people, is it because they are biased in favor of seeing certain groups get ahead, or is it bias in favor of seeing certain gender or ethnic groups fail?

Was the individual brought up to consider negativity a way of life, having no other influences until it was too late? Is the individual exhibiting negativity because of some past trauma, phobia or psychological or medical problem?

We may never know the answers to the cause of the negativity, but it is worth it to try to get answers when we cannot just walk out of a negative person’s life. 

Some important questions are: “Is the negativity is powerful in its harm? Is the negative person not going to improve?  Is the negativity toxic?”  The answers may lead to using the same responses that work on other types of bullies and abusers.

Other ways of coping with negativity include consistent and firm discouragement or disengagement every time that the person engages in the behavior, until they understand that it will not be tolerated. People do manage to change their ways when dealt with consistently and firmly. This might work in cases of minor, yet irritating negativity, or early on in a relationship, but can require professional counseling when attempting to deal with more serious negativity and with long term relationships.

Another coping mechanism is to add tolerance for some negativity to our other increased levels of tolerance when a person is physically or mentally ill. In these cases, the person either cannot change, or may be going through a temporary need to express negative feelings about things. This does not mean tolerating negativity that goes to the point of abuse or harm to self or others, however.

The most powerful weapon against negativity is positivity. For every negative there is a positive, and a relentless accentuation of the positive can actually wear a toxic and negative person out. In some cases, it might cause others to join in on the positivity and to outnumber the person who uses negativity as a form of bullying.

In summary: identifying the form, power, and causes of negativity allows for identifying the best course of actions which include, but are in no way limited to: consistent and firm correction, caregiver’s tolerance, professional help, anti bullying tactics or various forms of disengagement.

In some cases, professional help will be needed and should be sought, even if only one party seeks help in dealing with the negativity that is causing serious harm, suffering and discouragements in relationships and in life.