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. 

8 Signs a Negative Person Has Invaded Your Life

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar to you?

  • A co-worker vents to you about how horrible their life is (this seems to happen every time you talk with them).  Afterward, you are left feeling exhausted and/or frustrated.  
  • You go to lunch with a friend who makes “honest” statements about your life that end up occupying your thoughts for the rest of the day. 
  • You are dreading attending a family get together because you know that at least one aspect of your life will be opened up for public scrutiny. 

We have all experienced negative interactions with others- whether it be family members, co-workers, neighbors, or friends. Sometimes we may hold the belief that we can retain our positive outlook on life and that negative people will not impact this. However, when we spend so much time with negative people, we may not even realize the extent of influence that others really have on us.

Not only does spending time with negative people leave us feeling exhausted, but their negative outlook may begin to rub off on us, affecting the way we feel and the way we think about ourselves, others, and certain situations. Experiencing negativity, whether in the form of thoughts or feelings affects our physical health as well. Research supports the link between negative brain activity and a weakened immune system. The first step in dealing with negative people is to recognize when they enter our lives. 

Here are some signs that you may have a negative person in your life: 

  1. You do not look forward to spending time with them. 
  2. Anticipating the interaction with them causes preemptive exhaustion. 
  3. You feel worse after having spent time around them.
  4. You make excuses not to spend time with them. 
  5. You don’t like how you act when you are around them
  6. You feel that they bring out the worst in you. 
  7. After you spend time with them, you are left feeling exhausted. 
  8. You experience unpleasant physical sensations in your body when you are around them. (e.g.Stomach knots or tightness in your chest). 

It is important to keep in mind that others’ negativity has more to do with themselves than it does with you. When people are negative, there is usually a reason behind this, whether they are aware of it. They may have learned unhealthy ways to relate to others and get needs met, or they may be experiencing some form of pain. People who are happy and confident with themselves are not mean to others. 

Here are seven ways to help you better understand negative people in your life. 

  1. They may have low self-worth and attempt to make themselves feel better by making others look badly. 
  2. These people may have grown up in negative family environments where being negative toward others is familiar to them and all that they knew. 
  3. They could be experiencing a form of jealousy that leads them to criticize others in an attempt to feel better about themselves. 
  4. Negative people often develop unhealthy ways of relating to others that they learned from their families when they were children. While growing up, gossiping and speaking negatively about others may have been a way that their family communicated with one another. Now as an adult, it may be their same way of relating and engaging with others. 
  5. Some people may have learned unhealthy ways of getting needs met as children, such as through bullying and intimidation. 
  6. They could be projecting their own unwanted feelings and thoughts onto another person, rather than dealing with those unwanted thoughts and feelings in a healthy way. For example, a man believes that he is lazy and accuses others of being lazy. 
  7. Some people may have lack social skills and are unable to realize how their words may be perceived by others. So while an inappropriate comment made by that person leaves you feeling offended, they may be left feeling confused over your response. 
  8. When we are experiencing negative emotional states, such as fear, anxiety or stress, it can be easy to become reactive, letting our feelings dictate our behavior. Through displacement, people transfer their negative feelings onto others (who did not even cause the stress) in an attempt to alleviate their feelings. For example, a man gets reprimanded at work by his boss and is unable to express what he really wants.  He then takes his frustration out on his wife by being angry and critical towards her over some insignificant thing. 

The people we surround ourselves with greatly affect us. I encourage you as you go throughout your week to notice how others affect you. How do you feel when you know you are about to see someone? Do you look forward to it? Are you dreading it? Notice how you feel when you are spending time with them. Do you feel happy, energized? Or do you have knots in your stomach or constricted muscles?

Lastly, notice the quality of your energy after having spent time with them. Do you feel better than you did before having spent time with them or do you feel exhausted after spending time with them? Our physical sensations and energy can provide us a lot of information regarding our relationships, we just need to listen to them.

Part 2 will focus on ways to deal with being around negative people.