"Hell," wrote Jean Paul Sartre, "is other people." Be that as it may, living in the real world requires us to peacefully exist with all types, including Ms. Debbie Downer and Mr. Doom and Gloom. Whether the negativity is coming from your spouse, your co-worker, or your best friend, here are some ways to rise above.
Remember that it's a process. Like anything, your response to negativity isn't going to instantly change. Unfortunately, there's not a switch we can flip to make ourselves less susceptible to bad vibes. But by staying engaged with proactive solutions, our dealing-with-negativity muscles will grow stronger over time.
Place limits. When a co-worker corners you and wants to mouth off about the boss, many of us have a natural desire to be empathic. Empathize with the gripes of your colleague too much, though, and you could feel yourself dragged down by complaints that aren't even yours. Listen to your co-worker and be polite, but be firm; remind them that you're busy and only have a few minutes to spare.
Remember what it's really about. When people lash out at you with a response that is totally disproportionate to the situation, think about where their behavior is coming from. If all you're doing is ringing up their groceries, chances are it's not about you. That negativity is an outpouring of what's going on with them -- maybe they hate their job or are dealing with intense stress. Is their behavior appropriate or kind? Absolutely not. But it's a barometer for the state of their life, and not a reflection of who you are.
Build a protective shield. This suggestion may be a little hippy dippie for some, but give it a whirl. When you are feeling particularly vulnerable and the world feels especially cruel, imagine a protective shield between you and everyone you interact with. It could be a bubble, a white light, or a warm glow, but envisioning a physical barrier surrounding you may help guard your feelings.
Change the subject. When the negativity is coming from your spouse or friend, the situation can be a little trickier. Listen to them, but don't dwell with them. Usually what people want is a sympathetic ear. Provide it, and then gently change the subject to a more neutral topic.
Get active. If your friend or spouse is in a bad mood, talking about things -- whether listening sympathetically or trying to focus on the positive -- can be enormously helpful, but even this approach has its limits. Sometimes the best course of action is action. Plan an expedition to the science museum, a poetry reading, or the movies. Explore a new neighborhood or go to a video arcade. It's harder for your loved ones to stay in a bad mood when you're leading the charge to have fun.
Create your own energy field. Imagine that moods, like water, rise to the highest level. Your positive energy will keep you buoyant and will most likely, in time, rub off on those around you. In the meantime, the less attention you give that energy, the last space it will take up in your head, and the more you can enjoy your life. Whenever you can, elect to watch movies that make you feel good, listen to music that makes you smile, and spend time with people who lift you up.
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