…as much as possible. We all have negative people in our lives and some of them, regrettably, we cannot simply sever ties with permanently. However, we can make the choice to limit our contact with them, and, more importantly, when we find ourselves in their presence we can make the conscious choice to not be sucked into their black hole of pessimism, cynicism, and despair.
This is not always easy to do. Why does it seem like it’s so much easier to let ourselves get taken in by sour attitudes and the expectation that things are bad and always will be? Often times these people will try to convince us that happiness is foolhardy, and if we could just get our heads out of the clouds we’d be so much better off seeing things in their worst light as they do. It seems like they feel like they are proud of their outlook on life and that they even have a “Defeatist Badge” that they wear with smug satisfaction.
Well I’m not buying any of it. There is good in the world and there is bad in the world and it is up to us every single day to make the choice about what we focus our energies on. There are also kind people and unkind people, uplifting people and determined-to-crush-you-down people, light-seeking people and darkness-seeking people, and we can absolutely choose with whom and how much we have contact with all of them.
Here’s an example of something that happened to me recently. I was touring the Santa Barbara courthouse with a friend and we were about to enter the mural room there (which is a breathtaking chapel space with walls covered 360 degrees around in full murals hand-painted by a famous 1920’s movie backdrop painter) and just as we arrived at the doors, a blissful bride and groom emerged, accompanied by gorgeous acoustic guitar music reverberating around the room and amid jubilant applause and cheers from the unsuspecting onlookers who were touring the building. It was such a special and truly magical moment, so much so that tears sprang to my eyes as I joined in with the applause and general merriment as the couple exited the courthouse. I turned to my friend and gushed, “Wasn’t that amazing?! How cool was that?!” To which she responded sourly, “What’s the big deal? I’m sure people get married there all the time. “ She further stated how stupid it was to get married on Leap Day (since we were visiting there on February 29th) because now they could only officially celebrate every 4 years.
“Oh that’s right,” I said to myself, “I’m here with a person who makes Eeyore look joyful.”
Another example: Many years ago I had made a gift for a friend of mine’s daughter who was celebrating a special birthday. It was personalized and had taken a bit of a long time to make, and I was very happy with how it had turned out. So was the recipient, and as she was holding it and looking at it with sheer delight and elation on her face, her mother turned to me and said, “Way to make me look bad. How the hell am I supposed to compete with THAT?”
Yeah, I needed to make some new friends.
Last, and rather heartbreaking example. My best friend and I had gotten our hair done for our senior prom. All of the seniors got to leave school early to get ready and I remember feeling so cool and important as we strode out of school and drove together to the salon. When we were finished she was going to drop me off at my house because we still had a few hours before it was time to get ready, but we passed by where her mom worked and she suggested that we go inside and surprise her mom and show her our fancy coifs. I eagerly agreed, and we ran excitedly up to her mom’s office. We kind of burst in, with huge smiles on our faces and she exclaimed something along the lines of, “Look at us! We just got our hair done for the prom, doesn’t it look great?” We twirled around so her mom could see every angle of our late-80s curls and rhinestone clip studded masterpieces and then stood there expectantly waiting for her to share in our revelry. Instead of regaling us with compliments she looked us over, crossed her arms, frowned at both of us and said, “No, it doesn’t look great, it looks awful. Why did you have them do it that way? It’s too puffy and unnatural and…” I can’t remember the exact words she used but she went into chapter and verse about how terrible it looked and how we were foolish to pay good money for such disasters and on and on and on, and as I glanced over at my friend, I could see her bright smile fade and the light she had been emanating was dimming by the second. Her entire body deflated and I could see her chin drop to her chest as she forced herself to blink back the tears that I knew were forming steadily in her eyes. When her mother finished we turned to leave, minus the bounce in our step that we’d had a few moments earlier, and as we went out the door she called after us, “What was I supposed to do, lie?”
Yes Mommie Dearest, in that moment, you should have read the room, seen the pure joy and jubilation in your daughter’s eyes and reacted accordingly. Did she think that we were coming by to be criticized? Did she think we took time out of our exciting day to share it with her for the purposes of being cut down and demeaned to our faces? It’s abundantly apparent that she did not think about the situation at all, but rather launched into her usual disapproval and reprehension that she always saved particularly for my friend, which all of these years later makes me wonder why she wanted to stop by to see her mother at all on that day. She must have known she was going to be subjected to the usual disparagement…I guess hope springs eternal for a teenager who was still longing for her mother’s affirmation and approval in any way she could get it.
This is a story that honestly still makes a me sad when I think about it because it was such a cruel way to treat someone, especially this mother’s own daughter. This woman saw the worst in everything, and unfortunately, due to financial and other circumstances, my friend was unable to distance herself from the constant negativity and deprecation that her mother freely showered upon her until much later in her life, and even so, the decades of degradation and negativity definitely left their mark on her soul.
So what is the point I’m trying to make here? Negative people have the power to suck the joy out of our lives if we let them. Negative people can be very skilled at turning positive and joyful situations into the opposite. Negative people will often make it their mission in life to bring other people down to their level, and they look at things like happiness and laughter with disdain and contempt. You don’t need this in your life and I don’t need this in my life, especially when we are consciously trying to make happiness a priority every day.
This may mean cutting people out of our lives entirely or at least limiting our contact with them. This can be difficult to do, but I look at it this way: Negativity is like a contagious illness. I can easily catch it, and be brought down by it if exposed to it too frequently. So it’s in the best interest of my health to stay away from it as much as I can. You wouldn’t hang out with someone who had outward signs of strep throat or pinkeye or even a cold would you?
Unfortunately in the times we’re living in, negativity is catching, and the only way to inoculate ourselves against it is to quarantine ourselves from the people who have it. That may sound extreme, but it’s a conscious joy to keep positivity, optimism, and happiness at the forefront of our minds.
“Stay away from negative people, they will only pollute you.” -Israelmore Ayivor