I spent a whole lot of time in my own life being an enabler – helping people to stay in their doom and gloom by listening to their problems while knowing very well that they didn’t want solutions. And when I wasn’t being an enabler, I would be an evangelist, trying to convince people with really negative viewpoints on life full of doom and gloom that positivity and optimism were the way to go.
The irony: I would perpetuate negativity everywhere in my life by listening to constant moaning, I would get exhausted by it, and finally, once I recovered, I would start being so preachy with no real life example of the awesomeness of being positive because, well, I was always wasting my time being dragged to hell. So, no one listened.
If you are a person who has a lot of empathy and loves to help, I am sure this is not unfamiliar to you.
I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t really thrive in any way in life and think that super-negative friends, associates and even family can just run amok. In fact, there were a series of hard-won personal lessons I’m happy to share that may help you in dealing with your own dramatic wet-blanket people, even ones you love dearly.
First of all, I use the term super-negative to describe a disposition. There’s a difference between a person going through a crisis in life and a person who always sees the dark side of the situation and loves to share it with anyone who will listen, you know? I will help anyone I care about – and even strangers- that are in a crisis, as much as I can. But if the doom-and-gloom is the chronic state of affairs in someone’s life, I now know to be very aware.
Some ideas that may help you deal with super-negative folks:
1. People will ask for help when they need help. I always as the people I know and love that call me or visit whether they are looking for ideas to solve a problem or if they just want to talk. It was my arrogance (yep, I will own this!) that led me to believe that I could help people that weren’t looking for advice. Also, if someone repeatedly asks me for help and then rejects all my ideas, I stopped taking it personally.
2. Is there something in your that feels important/special/ wanted only when you are helping to sort out problems? I can say YES to all three things. In fact, when a row of my relationships turned into life coaching sessions (nothing like boyfriend who can’t make a move without asking for your advice on every move…) I was so leveled and exhausted that I realized I was the problem. I might not have been super-negative, but I was seeking out people and situations that demanded that I fix and manage and council and constantly help to a degree that was unusual… all because I wanted to feel needed. That was a turning point.
3. Create a policy for how you talk to wet-blanket, negative, cynical people you love. Julia Cameron talks about this a lot in her writing. Sometimes you need to protect certain subjects from certain people who you know will rain on your parade. If you share the news of your new love with someone who is doom-and-gloom about relationships, be sure that you know you are asking for a plate full of poison to come back at you.
I once said to someone who has a real issue with investing in personal happiness that I was considering a trip to Europe and in response I got a laundry list of world events, bombings, crisis and finally how expensive it was and how irresponsible it was to take off from work so often.
I had it coming to me.
4. Understand how much time goes into this “helping people who don’t want help” or “hanging around people who drag you down.” Once you can see the hours on paper that you spend in a day or a full week on this type of talk, you may be amazed. You likely could write a novel, start a new business or go on vacation if you saved up all that time instead of squandering it.
5. Really look at how even your exchanges are, or aren’t. I don’t look at life like a balance sheet, but if you only hear from someone when there’s drama, well, that’s a tell-tale sign that something is imbalanced. I know the people who call me only to bitch and complain. I don’t hear from them any more. It’s important to understand that there should be an exchange in any relationship:ideas, stories, whatever it may be. No exchange means there’s really not a relationship, you know?
6.Have compassion. Bitch and moan about your negative friends and guess what happens? You become just as negative!!! Have compassion for where people are at in life. Love them for who they are and where they are, even if it has to be from a distance for a bit. Compassion and empathy go a long way to help you create heathy boundaries. Not only will it protect you from spinning into chaos, it will help the people around you.
7. Be an example, not an evangelist. Instead of beating a drum for optimism and high vibes to people who don’t have any interest, focus on becoming the product of your beliefs. I used to try to talk people into coming with me to different events that I viewed as”positive.” Once I just went alone and actually became the product of the positivity work instead of just the preacher, suddenly even the gloomiest people I knew wanted to come to anything I was doing.
This, I’ve realized, is the best shot you have to “change” anything or anyone that resists help. Be the example. Inspire who you can. And keep going!
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