Learn how to deflect negativity from others and protect your energy.
So far, we’ve discussed why we have a negative mindset and we learned how to deal with negative thoughts of our own. But, as poet John Donne once said, “no man is an island”.
We’re social creatures who are deeply influenced by our environment. Living in communities gives us enormous benefits, but it also means we are exposed to the energies and mental states of those around us.
Relatives, friends, partners, colleagues… the people we see often and are closest to us can have a tremendous influence on our way of being and heavily affect how we think, feel, and act – sometimes for the better, sometimes… not so much.
We can’t control how other people think and behave (wouldn’t that be nice), but we do have some agency over and are responsible for how we react.
So what happens when we’re surrounded by people who drag us to lower-level emotions?
Here are a few tips on how to deal with negativity from other people.
How to Deal with Negative People
Dealing with negative people is exhausting and, if we’re not careful, we can end up in a loop of toxic thinking. If you find yourself surrounded by negative energy from others, it’s important that you don’t get caught up in their narrative.
Negative people usually drain our energy (and their own), so it’s imperative that you disengage if you can. This is akin to what we do in meditation: we stay present and observe our thoughts with curiosity, but we do so from a distance, without engaging with them.
Remember that image of the Earth as a tiny dot in the universe? This is what we want to achieve. Taking a step back and putting things in perspective (even if it’s in your imagination) activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you relax and stay calm.
When you disconnect like this, you’re aware of the conversation instead of in the conversation. This means you’re not emotionally and energetically involved.
And no, disengaging in this way doesn’t make you a bad friend/colleague/partner. Quite the opposite. People usually listen just to respond, anxious to jump in the conversation the first chance they’ve got.
By taking a step back, you can remain present, listen and focus on understanding without being as triggered as you could be if you were too involved in the other person’s narrative and emotional state. It means you’re actually MORE interested, not less. And you’re protecting your energy.
Acknowledge and empathize
We’re not here to judge. Everybody has challenges in their lives and we deal we them the best we can with the tools we have.
If someone is being negative, they’re probably going through something difficult for them. Let them know they’re being heard and seen. You can say something like “I hear what you’re saying,” or “I’m sorry that’s happened to you."
You could also repeat or summarize what they told you: “If I understand correctly, [this is what’s happening/how you’re feeling”].
Then, you can finally steer the conversation in a constructive direction, which takes us to the next step.
If you realize you can’t disengage even if you try, it’s time to block the negativity before it gets to you, and guide the other person and the conversation in a more positive direction.
A fantastic tool to stop someone’s speech is to mention their name. Hearing our own name produces “unique brain functioning activation”. The brain is programmed to pay attention to it.
Mentioning someone’s name will not only make them stop talking and pay attention to you, it will also make them feel heard and seen. Now the ball is on your court. You have an opportunity to redirect the conversation.
For example, you could ask: “How are you going to solve this?” This directs their attention from the problem to the solution.
Remember: Mention their name + Acknowledge + Redirect.
Example: So, John, if I understand correctly, you’re upset because you’re not being heard at work. I hear you. That sucks and I’m sorry it’s like this. How are you planning to deal with it?
You could also change topics and talk about something they enjoy doing: “How’s salsa dancing going?"
Ending the conversation on a positive note doesn’t mean we deny the other person’s struggles. But going into a downward spiral with them doesn’t help either of you. Steering their attention towards something enjoyable and/or useful helps change the energy in the room and focus on solutions rather than problems.
Elevate your energy
Sometimes, we are the ones having a bad day and struggling with toxic thoughts. In those days, it’s so much easier to get dragged into lower-level emotions – the last thing we need is to be fed someone else’s negativity.
If you’re already feeling low or drained, do your best to avoid negative people (if you’re trying to quit smoking, you wouldn’t hang out with other smokers, right?). I know this can be hard or impossible sometimes. In that case, stay aware of how other people’s energies are affecting you and try to stay in positive or neutral environments.
You might not be able to avoid the office’s moaner, but maybe there’s a meeting you can reschedule, or you can see that draining friend or relative another day.
Not only is it important that you curate who you’re around, but it’s also crucial that you focus on elevating your own energy.
One of the best ways to deal with negativity is to keep your own mood consistently high. Here are some simple and practical ways to elevate your energy and increase happiness.
- Gratitude. Giving thanks can make you happy, research confirms. It can also help you deal with adversity and improve relationships. And receiving thanks from others? Huge boost in happiness! You can make yourself and others feel better all in one go just by saying the two magic words: Thank you.
Keep a gratitude journal, write thank you notes, or even thank someone mentally. There’s no wrong way to do it. What are you grateful for right now?
- Write your successes. Writing a list of all the things that have gone right for you (either today, this past week/month/year, or in the past in general) shifts your attention towards the bright side of life, and boosts the production of “happy hormones.” Keep the list close at hand, read it often, and feel the joy.
- Play your favorite happy (or relaxing) song! Music is a powerful mood regulator. It reduces the production of cortisol (the stress hormone), boosts the release of dopamine, and activates areas of the brain related to pleasure and rewards. Listening to your favorite tunes can also help “purge negative emotions such as anger, grief, or frustration in a harmless way”.
- Go for a walk. Take 15 minutes out of your lunch break and go for a walk. If you have some nature around (a park will do, or a tree-lined street), even better. Put on your headphones and listen to your favorite music or enjoy the sound of the birds. But go for a walk, trust me! Walking, especially in nature, boosts your mood (it bumps up the release of endorphins), and wards off depression and stress.
- Small acts of kindness – Helping others, even in small ways, causes what’s known as the “helper’s high”, a feeling of pleasure, happiness, and even euphoria. This is because extending acts of kindness boosts the production of feel-good chemicals, such as serotonin and oxytocin, making you feel happier and energized!
Fun fact: these benefits are also felt by those who witness an act of kindness – imagine how many people you can help (including yourself)! Tell someone how much you appreciate them and combine the benefits of acts of kindness and gratitude. Boom. Positivity bomb for all.
Making these small practices into a habit will help you keep your mood consistently high. They’re as simple as they’re powerful, and won’t take you more than a few minutes.
Think about or write down 3 things you’re grateful for right before bed or as soon as you wake up, or play your favorite music while getting ready for work (or both), so you already start the day on a positive note.
Energy Vampires: What are They and How to Deal with Them
Being around someone who’s occasionally negative is one thing (we all struggle sometimes), but dealing with and blocking negativity from an energy vampire is a very different business.
There is a difference between someone telling you they’re having a bad day and someone trauma dumping on you. Energy vampires are people who, 9 times out of 10, drain your emotional energy, leaving you feeling depleted and sometimes stressed out. It’s a pattern. And you will need to take additional action to protect your energy around them.
To know if you’re dealing with an energy vampire, check in with yourself and your body: What’s your level of discomfort when interacting with this person? How do you feel after? Does this happen every single time? Trust your body.
These energy-draining behaviors sometimes are completely unintentional and can have many different causes, like past trauma, certain attachment styles, or even personality disorders.
The point is that you need to protect your energy and mental health. So how can you stay sane and balanced around energy vampires?
Step 1: When you notice yourself focusing on the negativity of other people, take a good look at yourself first. It’s easy to judge others, but sometimes we are also draining other people without realizing it. What kind of energy are you distilling? Do you complain all the time or you elevate others? How’s your mindset? Take a look at your own behaviors.
Step 2: Let them know how you feel. Sometimes people don’t realize the impact they have on others. Is the other person aware they’re draining your energy? Maybe they’re not! If it feels safe to do so, tell them. Maybe that’s the cue they needed to become aware of their behaviors and get in the path of healing. You never know.
Here’s how to do it: “When you say this, I feel X”. Example: “When you talk like this, it drains my energy."
Step 3: Set boundaries. If the situation cannot be changed, if that person is really draining you and nothing else seems to work, it might be time to set clear boundaries.
Remember: you get to choose the people you surround yourself with. When you start your own process of healing, you will become more aware of the negativity of others and be able to choose more intentionally to spend time with those who match the energy you want to be around.
Negativity is a choice. In every single situation, you can choose where to focus your attention: on the negative (complaining, victimhood) or the positive (lesson, solution).
The decision is yours.