How to Deal with Negative People
How many times, has someone told you: “Think of your audience in their underwear," right before taking the stage at a public speaking event, or before chairing a business meeting?
Honestly that’s never worked for me. It just throws me off my game, and makes me lose focus on the task at hand.
However, in a situation in which performance is not at stake, I’ve found active visualization quite helpful.
We all have that one person in our lives who is just a thorn in our side. It can be someone at work, a member of your family, or even someone in your circle of friends. You know exactly who I’m talking about. It is that person who never shares in your happiness when things are going well, who is ready to dispense impractical advise when things are going badly. Most importantly, that person whose negativity and judgement you have unknowingly internalized and most likely incorporated in your self-defeating internal monologue (most likely because, though the person may be toxic he/she has an important place in your life).
Now, if I were to give an easy list on how to deal with negative people it would look like something like this:
When faced with negative people
1. Don’t even think of making eye contact.
2. Darn it, you didn’t listen. Ok, don’t panic, smile politely and look frantically for the nearest exit.
3. Wait, you mean you can’t leave and you’re stuck having to engage this person?
4. Ok, you’re own your own. Thanks for playing! Good bye.
Fine, life is never so easy that we can avoid all unpleasant experiences at will, but at least we can control our attitude towards uncomfortable situations.
Brilliant Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frakl has written extensively about the individual’s ability to be the author of one’s own emotional life:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
That gap between stimulus and response is the micro-second it takes the subconscious to process information and select the learned response appropriate to a specific circumstance.
More specifically, the sensory information to any stimulus passes through the amygdala where information is given an emotional value, before moving to the hippocampus which evaluates the data against those held in the long term memory, accessing pre-existing response patterns appropriate to the situation at hand. (Wow, that made my head spin!)
But, we are not slaves to our automatic responses. We can in fact rewrite some of those reflex emotions that arise when affected by a toxic individual set on polluting us with negativity.
Before we address how to do that, let’s remind ourselves that more often than not, these types of people are in a hell of pain of their own making. At times, they may not even be aware of the effects their words have on others, and may even delude themselves into thinking that it is a form of caring. They are after all expressing worry about your present or future life. They may have learned that anxiety is their only currency, and by no fault of their own have remained painfully unaware of this. So what I’m saying is, let’s be compassionate.
Back to positive visualization in the face of negative stimuli. Every time negative feelings arise either by direct contact with my “toxic person” or just by the thought of something this person has said, I try to imagine them speaking those hurtful words in a clown costume, and a squeaky Donald Duck voice. Provided you are not affected by coulrophobia, I promise you, if you do that enough times, it will reduce or outright eliminate that unpleasant feeling. Just keep from bursting into laughter the next time you come face to face with your own toxic person. Don’t do that, that’s not nice.
This may at first seem like a childish and spiteful exercise of our mental energy, and perhaps, this may have been the way it all started (I admit nothing!), but replacing a stressful situation with a positive scenario (with attached positive feelings) doesn’t hurt anyone. If you ever did imagine your audience in their underwear to combat your performance anxiety before a speaking engagement, you may have come to noticed none of the members of said audience ended up complaining or filing an harassment suit against you.
What happens in your head is your own darn business. More to the point, you need to make what happens in your head your own business. Being mindful (the calm awareness of your body, feelings, and mind) isn’t to be relegated to Buddhist practices, it is a way for everyone to actualize their potential and eliminate “mental static”.
So, the next time you’re faced with a negative person, be responsive not reactive. Just see what happens.
Also, if you need any further documentation on the subject:
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