Why Do We Keep Negative People in Our Lives?

Sometimes being around negative people is unavoidable- although you may fantasize about quitting your job on a regular basis and escaping the energy draining boss and dramatic co-worker, it may not be realistic at the current moment. However, other times, despite the fact that we may have friends who leave us feeling awful, we find that it’s more difficult to cut the ties than we thought. So why do we choose to keep negative people in our lives? 

1.  We wait for people to change or think that we can change them. 

Maya Angelou said it best when she said, “When people show you who they are, believe them.” It is rare that someone is going to change on their own without insight or motivation. In order to change, people have to be aware that their behavior is causing harm to others and they have to want to change. If someone in your life continues to do things that upset you, make sure you let them know it. However, if you tell someone how their behavior affects you and what you need from them and it still has not changed after awhile, it is not going to.

2.  We minimize their behavior.

If you find that you are frequently saying things like, “Well, what he did wasn’t that hurtful” or “Yes, but she isn’t that bad,” you may be minimizing others’ behavior. Yes, someone’s behavior could always be worse, but do you want to spend time with soeome who leaves you feeling “a little badly” vs. “very badly.” How about spending time with people who make you feel amazing! 

3.  We rationalize their behavior.

We may give others a “pass” at the way they act or treat others because we know that they have experienced difficulties at some point in their lives. We may say things like, “He acts that way because of his terrible childhood” or “She’s acting that way because she’s going though a lot right now.” Yes, our early experiences are influential in our development, but they don’t always cause a certain outcome. Not everyone who experiences difficult life circumstances treats others badly. Also, simply because someone has experienced something bad in their lives does not mean they get a “pass” to treat others badly. 

4.  We feel guilty for ending relationships.

If guilt is keeping you from ending an unhealthy relationship, ask yourself where the guilt is coming from? Do you feel obligated to a particular friend because they helped you out in the past? Do you feel guilty because this person does not have many friends? Do you feel guilty at the thought of ending a friendship because you have am extensive history with this friend? Simply because a friend has helped you out does not mean that you are indebted to them. Also, if guilty feelings or a sense of obligation are motivators for maintaining a relationship, these are not healthy or compelling reasons to maintain it. 

5.  Fear

If you have concerns about ending a relationship, ask yourself what your concerns are? Once you have identified them, ask yourself how likely they are to happen and if they were to happen would you be able to handle them? For example, are you concerned that if you were to end a friendship with a friend, that that that friend will think negatively of you and speak negatively of you to others? Are you concerned that you’ll be alone if you end a certain relationship? It is better to be alone/have fewer friends, than spend time with people who are destructive to your self-worth and well-being. 

6.  We like to feel needed.

If you have a friend who relies on you to help them with every “crisis” and then praises you for your help and for being a wonderful friend, the feeling of being needed and valued, may be a compelling reason to stay in a friendship. Feeling needed can keep us stuck in an unhealthy relationship, especially if we did not grow up in a family where we were left feeling valued. Ask yourself what are some of the possible payoffs that keep you stuck in an unhealthy relationship? 

7.  We don’t want to hurt others.

Many times, people are concerned that if they end a relationship or set boundaries with someone, that this may result in the other person becoming hurt or angry. Keep in mind that we cannot control how other people feel or behave. If you’re having difficulty mustering the courage to end a relationship or set a boundary with someone, remind yourself that maintaining a relationship in order to prevent someone else from feeling hurt, comes at a cost.