4 Ways To Avoid Being Engulfed In Others’ Bad Moods

Fox/New Girl

It’s hard to know where to step when a friend or family member is chronically negative. Everyone knows someone like this and is probably often frustrated by them, but of course, you still care about them. You probably want to spend time with them, but you know from experience that your mood is likely to plummet in their presence. Maybe they’ll complain about all the same old problems, their horrible luck or how they are always a victim. When you find yourself in this position, keep the following tips in mind.

1. Limit Your Commiserating

The important thing to remember is that validating this person’s negative thoughts does not usually help them. Feeding into their complaints with things like, “Wow, I can’t believe that happened to you!” may seem polite, but it actually validates their woe-is-me attitude and enables them to keep wallowing. Even if things have been going bad for them, adopting a resentful attitude toward life will only pull them in deeper.

Instead, try to respond with neutral or slightly positive statements. Extreme positivity may annoy them or make them feel even more hopeless. However, you can highlight other aspects of their lives that are positive as a small reminder that they can choose to focus on those things instead. When they start plunging into self-pity, say something that takes the emphasis off of them, like, “Yes, that happens to a lot of people, but I know you’ll get through it in time.”

2. Distract, Distract, Distract

If you follow the first suggestion and limit the amount of commiserating you do, you’ll have to fill that conversational space with something else. Slowly moving the conversation toward hobbies they enjoy, friends or family members they are close with or even a TV show they enjoy can be a start. They may be resistant at first, but it falls on you to be consistent and not allow the conversation to drift back to negative topics. This requires some personal willpower, so if you feel too frustrated to be positive, being silent might be a better choice.

3. Be Silent

Depending on your level of closeness with the distressed person, you may be able to comfort them simply by spending time in the same room as them. Sometimes people don’t want advice (as much as you love to dish it out), and nothing you say can help them at that point in time. Sensitive people may take your advice as criticism, and stubborn folks might disagree and become even more upset. So your next option is to simply be accessible to them. Sometimes it’s not a solution a problem needs, but rather time for it to dissolve. If that’s the case for your friend or family member, accept that your only role is to hang out and be as Buddha-like as you possibly can. Your silence can serve as a comforting reminder of stability.

4. Retreat

Unfortunately, some people can be so negative that they are not worth the self-sacrifice. Being near them on a regular basis can seriously drain your energy and change your outlook — which could result in you not doing what you need to do in life.

A few red flags that you should just stay away: They often turn their negativity toward you, their problems are minor but they never take action to solve them, they repeat the same mistakes and refuse to recognize them or they really just want a “misery buddy” to complain with them. You can also look back at the time you’ve spent with this person and compare it to your overall personal progress — do you tend to veer off track from your personal priorities when this person is around? If so, they may a negative influence that you just can’t handle.
In these cases, you have to think of yourself and your own wellbeing first. If a person is unwilling to help themselves, you shouldn’t be bending over backward to help them, either.