Negativity can be a normal and valid feeling, but some people seem perpetually surrounded by it. When that someone is a close family member, co-worker or a good friend, it’s normal to want to lend them an ear — or even try to solve their problems. But over time, this can become exhausting.
At first, lending an ear might feel good. You may feel helpful or appreciated. Eventually, this feeling may fade. You may start to notice patterns: their problems recur; everything seems to be someone else’s fault; they never “get to be” happy; they are constantly irritable; they seem unable, or unwilling, to change their ways; your conversations are all about them and not really conversations at all.
You may begin to feel a sense of dread whenever they are around. You may start to feel guilty, avoid them or fantasize about cutting off contact entirely. Perhaps you even feel angry or used.
How do you handle this?
- Recognize your role. It may feel like this person is taking your time away, but in reality, you are giving it to them. Ask yourself why. Perhaps you have a history together. Perhaps you feel you owe them something. Perhaps being there helps you feel better about yourself. Acknowledge this.
- Absolve yourself of responsibility. Their problems are not your problems. You are not responsible for their behavior, nor can you fix it. Only they can do that. If you chose not to listen to their negativity anymore, whatever they do is not your fault.
- Set boundaries. This is a very important step. Tell them that while they are important to you, your life and commitments are most important — and you need to devote more time to them. It can be difficult to work up the courage to set boundaries, and even more difficult in the moment; but once you set them, you will feel a weight has been lifted from your shoulders.
- Practice positivity. Negativity can feel contagious, so it’s helpful to counterbalance it with positivity. We say “practice” because positivity takes work! Consider starting a gratitude journal; write down the things you’re grateful for on a daily basis — even if they are very simple. It can do wonders for your outlook over time.
- Recommend professional help — or seek it yourself. Everyone needs someone to talk to, but professional psychologists and counselors are well-equipped to listen and help in effective ways. If your someone has severe depression, an addiction, suicidal tendencies, or no one else to turn to, this is a particularly important step.
As the old saying goes, misery loves company. Until negative people confront their issues and take responsibility for their behavior, they will always need to complain — and they will find someone to complain to. What’s most important is that you do what’s best for YOUR health and well-being.