There’s no way around it: negative people are everywhere. They’re at work, in supermarkets and malls, at airports and on airplanes, on the street and at the park—they also run rampant in our families and friends circles.
Getting caught in the crossfires with a negative person can certainly ruin your day or even your week—if you let it.
There are some insightful and intelligent ways to keep your energy intact in the midst of any negativity aimed in your direction.
Here are seven clever—and sound—strategies to cope with the negative people in your life.
1) Know that it’s not about you
It’s hard not to get defensive when someone starts getting snappy with you. It could be the boss who makes a sarcastic remark when you ask for an afternoon off the following week for a dentist’s appointment.
It could be your partner who seems to get annoyed about any little thing lately, like not being able to find their tax form that they swear they left on the dining room table (they look at you like you’re the culprit).
It can be easy to take negativity personally, but nine times out of ten, it isn’t about you, says therapist April Justice from Better Help.
“Negative people can have many reasons for their negativity. Still, if they are always acting out in this manner when they’re around you, it can be important to remind yourself that it isn’t your fault,” she says.
It’s not up to you to fix another person’s negativity, either. “If you’ve tried to reach out before and they haven’t accepted your help, you may need to accept that there is nothing more that can be done unless they want to work on it themselves.”
2) Give them what they need…
Consistent negativity can actually be a cry for help.
That’s because negative people have a tendency to reflect their negativity onto others, says Justice.
So if your best friend has been critical about the way you look lately, it could be because they’re having insecurities themselves around their self-image.
Because they don’t feel good about themselves, they criticize others so that they can be on the “same level” so to speak.
In this case, it is actually beneficial to respond with positive feedback even if your inclination is to ignore or even say something negative right back.
If the negative person happens to be a close friend or family member, this is often the best route to go, says Justice.
3) …but don’t buy into their negativity either
If the person is habitually skeptical, don’t engage in their toxic negativity, says Deep Patel from Entrepreneur.
“Whatever you do, don’t stop to their level,” Patel says. “This doesn’t mean ignoring them. Nor should you try to bright-side everything. Trying to convince someone to stop being negative may only challenge them to amp up their hostility.”
Patel says that a difficult person is probably locked into their negative mindset so much so that it has become part of their personality.
“Negative people often have a demanding nature and put pressure on those close to them. They want others to respect them, be there for them, yet they are incapable of offering emotional support to others.”
4) You might need to steer clear of them—at least some of the time
Sometimes the negativity can be too much to take.
If your heart sinks being around such a person, and you feel like you’re being dragged down by them more often than not, then it might well be time to distance ourselves from these people.
Negative people can have a huge impact on our lives, says eMuse from Medium. They are exhausting to be around. Being around them (especially in large doses) can be emotionally taxing, and stressful, she says. “Their constant negativity can lead to anxiety, stress, and even depression.”
If this is the case, then it’s imperative to distance ourselves from them to protect our mental health and emotional well-being. “By avoiding negative people, we can focus on our goals and priorities, maintain healthy relationships, and enjoy life to the fullest.”
If the symptoms aren’t as harsh as the above, then consider spending less time with them if you can.
See that critical friend once a month over dinner at a restaurant instead of being at each other’s homes once a week. This way, you’re in a public, more formal setting which can temper the time spent with them.
5) It might be time to be brave and establish some boundaries
Sometimes it’s not so easy to distance ourselves from the negative people in our lives.
If the negative person in your life is your critical, has-an-opinion-about-everything older sister, and you find that being around her is too much to handle—say something about it.
Let her know that her criticism and negativity is affecting your own mood, is hurtful, and that you don’t like being around her when she’s like this.
Be polite but firm. And then see what happens.
If she continues her negative ways, make it a point to see less of her. Or walk away from her when she starts down that track again.
She’ll begin to respect your boundaries. If she doesn’t, well, then she’ll be losing out on the relationship.
If the person is what Dr. Sharon Martin calls an “energy vampire,” then your first defense should be to avoid them as much as possible.
“Say no to invitations where they’ll be present. If you have to go, arrive late and leave early,” she says. “Keep your office fort shut. Don’t make yourself available at all hours to attend to their needs.”
Remember to honor your emotional space, says Dr. Martin.
“One of the healthiest things you can do when surrounded by needy or negative people is to create some emotional separation,” she says.
This means reminding yourself that their problems aren’t your problems. You’re also not responsible for their feelings. Also understand that you’re not the only one who can help them.
Think about what it is that you want to do—not what they want you to do.
6) Model the behavior you want to see from them
No doubt we teach others how to treat us in the way that we treat ourselves.
So if you have that one neighbor who always likes to come over just to gossip about the other people in your building for example, then changing the subject to something more neutral might give them the hint.
Keep doing this until they realize that you’re not about to cave.
Also, if you have a partner who tends to exude negativity once in a while, acting upbeat and refusing to let their mood affect yours might compel them to come your way. It might help them become more aware of how they’re acting and they might choose to alter their mood.
Even though people largely live up to the labels associated with them (“He’s a jerk”; “She’s such a complainer”), we have to remember that it is possible that they will act differently, says Lori Deschene from Tiny Buddha.
“Try coming at them with the positive mindset you wish they had,” she says. “Expect the best in them. You never know when you might be pleasantly surprised.”
7) Go to your “happy place”
We tend to give our power over to people with the “bigger” personalities.
A negative person’s energy takes up a lot of space. It affects us so much that we end up giving that person the power to steal our joy, says Dr. Sharie Stines from Psych Central.
“Make the decision to hold onto yourself and your power and refuse to let the negative person own you,” she says.
The team at Hive recommends finding your “happy place” as a way to preserve our own power when a negative person permeates your space.
Close your eyes and go there in your mind. You can visualize a place you love, where you feel relaxed, safe, and calm. This is a great way to protect your energy.
Your happy place can be your bed, “all cozy and piled with comfy blankets. [Or] maybe it’s that trail you love to hike.” I think it can even be a positive memory: a time you were very happy or proud of yourself.
“Take one full minute to sit with your eyes closed, breathing deeply, imagining that space in as much sensory detail as possible.”
You’ll have that blissful feeling come back to you in no time.