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Negative thoughts, beliefs, and feelings about yourself are not the only emotional energy vampires you need to watch out for. There are also more literal “vampires,” i.e. people who work to undermine your emotional and psychological health by draining away your energy, optimism, and well-being. Now, this is not to say there are purely “bad” people out there who are responsible for all our negative feelings when we are around them. After all, every one of us has at some point been negative, unreasonable, and difficult to deal with.
Rather, learning to spot and avoid or manage negativity in others is more about self-care and preserving and maintaining your own energy. It’s a little like keeping your distance from someone who’s coughing and sneezing, or ensuring you don’t make yourself a target for someone’s bad day or emotional outburst.
Anyone who has spent even a tiny amount of time or energy on personal development will at some point come to the problem of what to do with people who don’t share your enthusiasm for growing and evolving. If you’re battling mental illness, trying to be a better person or simply attempting to get more joy, creativity, and meaning out of your life, you may be stumped about what to do when you encounter people who seem hell-bent on being negative, judgmental and, well, generally awful.
Humans are social creatures, and even for those of us who feel like we’re independent, the emotions, attitudes, and words of others can have a profound effect on our own moods and the way we see ourselves. You could work incredibly hard to cultivate a healthy sense of self-esteem, and progress immensely in this goal, only to have a rude, critical person tear it all down with, “Oh, you’re wearing that?” So much personal development focuses on what we can do with our own thoughts, feelings and beliefs. But learning to contend with other people’s negativity is just as important.
Firstly, learn to spot personality traits that seek to bring others down, or lower the “energy” of every interaction or conversation. Look for those people that are always complaining or whining, never have a positive word to say about themselves or others, and constantly seem to be the victim of some person or circumstance. These people are passive, expect the worst and always go for the worst interpretation, including being chronically insulted or disappointed with things around them.
Though they are quick to find fault with literally everything, such a person may nevertheless hardly think to ask if they’re in the wrong, because they simply never are. Granted, we’ve all had people we don’t get on with, but a true “energy vampire” will have a consistently negative pattern with everyone they meet, not just you. They’ll have a reputation for being joyless, difficult to please, judgmental, or drama causing. They’re most familiar with anger and dissatisfaction, but you never see them express love or gratitude. In fact, even when something good happens to this person, they’ll find something wrong with it and dwell on that instead, making sure everyone around them knows how unhappy they are.
When you’re with a person like this you feel drained, to put it simply. You may feel like they’re constantly manipulating you, judging you, framing you as the bad guy, or turning every happy thought or impulse into the worst-case scenario. It’s exhausting. They may argue all the time, subtly insult you or undermine you, or just generally be depressing to be around.
The trouble with a person like this is that over time that negative attitude starts to rub off. Whenever you are upbeat, their bad mood seems to win out, and you find yourself drawn into complaining sessions instead. Maybe you felt really good about something…until you told this person. You may start to buy into their way of thinking, really believing that everything is terrible and nothing can be done about it. Rather than brainstorming solutions or options, this person constantly focuses on the problem, resorting to impotent complaining or blaming someone else.
Be careful with a person like this, since their negativity can become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Their intense focus on the negative may mean they never amount to much in life, systematically creating more pessimism all around them. You yourself can become sucked in and become part of this attitude of negativity.
It’s easy to see these characteristics in some people, but harder in others. Do you know anyone who has convinced everyone around them that life is just harder for them, that they’re the perpetual victim and it’s everyone else’s fault? People like this can be so good at twisting things that their entire surrounding network buys into the same negative narrative. Be wary of people who always seem to be in one kind of crisis or another, who want to draw you into arguments or otherwise position you as an actor in their play.
People who cannot admit mistakes, appreciate the things they have or seek solutions to their problems will never grow. If you’re trying to grow yourself—emotionally, spiritually, financially—a person with this mindset will only work against you. Don’t spend time and effort building up your own store of emotional strength and energy only to have someone else sap it right out of you.
So how do you deal with someone like this, especially if you work together or they’re a family member? The first thing to do is to become crystal clear on your boundaries. Do the opposite of a toxic vampire and keep yourself in a proactive, optimistic frame of mind: nobody can force you to do anything, and you are not required to expose yourself to someone else’s negativity.
Become aware in yourself of your own personal limits. We can all tolerate some negativity in other people—otherwise we wouldn’t be able to help those in genuine need!—but take the time to ask what your tolerance level is and establish a boundary that will not be violated. Walk away. Politely change the topic. Opt out of conversations that only serve to suck the optimism out of you. Recognize when someone’s negativity is intruding on your own peace of mind, and then calmly but assertively change the situation or remove yourself from it. It may be difficult or awkward to deliberately step out of someone else’s misery game, but you deserve to be around people who support and build you up.
Of course, this is easier said than done. It’s easy to walk away from negativity if it comes from a colleague you don’t encounter much at work, or someone just passing through your life. But what if the negative person is your spouse, your child or a dear friend of many years? It can be difficult to draw boundaries when someone you care about is so clearly suffering and in distress. What do you do then?
First, realize that even though we all wish it wasn’t the case, we are all responsible for our own emotional well-being, and nobody can make anyone else happy on their behalf. Get crystal clear on this point: compassion and care can go a long way, but if someone is not ready to accept that help or compassion, we only hurt ourselves in trying to rush in to solve the problem for them. Maintaining your own boundaries whilst acting with compassion can be tricky, but it is more than possible.
Be generous in caring gestures that don’t drain you or cost you anything: give the person in need a hug, a compliment, or share a nice memory. One of the best things you can do for people trapped in negativity is to model optimism—let your own light shine and simply share a smile, even if they’re being down on themselves or on you. They may not show it at the time, but your enthusiasm and attitude may well shift something in them, or inspire them. Try to show unconditional respect, even if they’re difficult with you. When you praise them or give them a compliment, make it about something fundamental; i.e., try to affirm their worth as a human being no matter what. Make them feel welcome and appreciated, and make it clear that even though you’re setting a boundary, you love and care for them and want to encourage their happiness.
You can make suggestions or offer advice, but don’t take it personally if they don’t accept it. Just be there to listen. Try not to get embroiled in the details of what they’re feeling negative about—rather, be a positive force and support them, without supporting their negativity. Finally, be ready to reinforce your boundaries when necessary. Being sympathetic and understanding with loved ones adds immense meaning to life. But it’s never worth sacrificing our own hard-won peace of mind, and in any case, we don’t help a negative person by becoming just as negative as they are!
Keep an eye on your own emotional state. Be vigilant about the temptation to make others’ problems your own, or to assume that you’re responsible for them somehow. Have empathy without guilt. Give support and a kind ear, but don’t mistake your help for getting involved in their drama directly. Respect that everyone is on their own journey in life, and as much as we care, some people will take paths that make them unhappy. Don’t judge, don’t try to save them; just be there and show presence and compassion. Then, get on with your own life—the only thing you can realistically control is your own attitude.
As you get better at maintaining your own state of mind despite others’ negativity, you’ll naturally gravitate toward those that are better aligned with you and your vision. Cultivate a positive energy and you will find yourself more attracted to (and more attractive to!) other people with similar attitudes. Seek out those people who fill you with energy, and who leave you feeling more inspired and joyful than you were before. There are people who will understand, support and encourage you. Find those people, and develop strong ties with them. Rather than drain you, these are the people who will feed your happiness and success in life.
Whether it’s at home, at work or in your community at large, a network of like-minded, supportive people can feed off of each other’s positive energy and create wonderful things together. Lift others up, praise those around you and support others, and you’ll attract others who will do the same. Have gratitude for yourself and others, take responsibility and be proactive. Just like physical energy, emotional energy can feed on itself; the more you cultivate it in your life, the more of it there is, and the easier it is to create more. This is why it’s so important to take care when dealing with people who undermine that energy, while simultaneously fostering and developing relationships with those people who give you energy.
Occasionally, we all have to take the difficult step of cutting out people entirely if they’re toxic and refuse our help. Do this with kindness and compassion, and without guilt. When people are ready to evolve, they will, and not a moment before. All you ultimately have power to change is yourself. So, focus on that.