Living with a person who is chronically negative is like tying a cement block to your foot and jumping into the middle of the ocean. You take your last breath and hope you will be rescued before you drown.
I am a positive person. I don’t see things as “all or nothing,” and I don’t find potential problems in every situation. I’m easy going and have learned that most things smooth themselves out just fine with minimal or no involvement from me. There isn’t much I consider a big deal, and I just generally don’t get upset about things that may or may not happen. Borrowing trouble is a waste of my good mood. I’ll adjust if I need to.
My husband is nightmarishly negative. He sees a potential downside to every single situation. If I give him good news, he will respond with “yea but…” and proceed to tell me all the reasons why my news isn’t so good after all. For example, my daughter who recently graduated high-school thought living at home binge watching Netflix was what you did when you didn’t have to go to school every day.
For months, we were on her about finding a job. One day she came home excited and told us she was going to be working at Starbucks. My first response was “That’s great! Good for you.” Can you guess my husband’s first words? “Starbucks? You aren’t going to like working there. It’s busy and you have to be going all the time. You won’t be able to keep up or deal with pissed off customers.” I just stared at him. Really? He had fought with her repeatedly about not working, she gets a job and this is his response?
That is only one example of a lifetime of experience I could draw from. It’s chronic and disheartening to be around someone who sucks the joy out of everything you say, think, or do. When we were first married I seriously thought I could handle it. I was a strong person and he would change. He didn’t. I did. I suffered terribly and eventually had a breakdown. If you told me that would happen on our wedding day, I would not have believed you.
The ultimate pessimist. Is it biological?
Recent studies, like the one that appears in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, provides biological evidence that there are, in fact, positive and negative thinkers in the world.
From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense because negative people are always on the lookout for danger and bad news. This is the part of the brain that mankind relied on to keep them from getting eaten by a tiger or killed by a rival tribe.
The study, as reported by Science Daily, reviewed brain scans of participants who were asked to view graphic images and put a positive spin on them. Those who were able to twist the image into a positive outcome had much less brain activity than those who could not find a positive outcome. According to lead investigator and assistant professor of psychology, Jason Moser, these findings are indicative of the way negative thinkers approach difficult situations.
Telling my husband to think positively wouldn’t (and didn’t) work. The study suggests using a different approach in which you ask the person to think about the problem in a different way using different strategies.
Although negative thinkers could practice positive thinking, Moser suspects “it would take a lot of time and effort to even start to make a difference.” I can say from painful, personal experience, he is absolutely right.
Negative people can be harmful to your health
It would be great if when I am in a good mood I could be around my husband and rather than me winding up feeling down, I lifted his mood up. Sadly, it does not work that way.
According to a post on Psychology Today (Andrew Newberg, 2012), neuroscience has discovered that the effects of negativity can actually impact the physical structure of the brain. So, the words other people say to you and the actions they take, can change the structure of your brain.
If that isn’t bad enough, your brain then stores the memory of that interaction which makes it get into its protective “fight or flight” mode before your next interaction even begins.
For years, when I had to begin a conversation with my husband about anything, I did so with a sense of dread. I tried to think of the best way to talk to him and I’d practice responses to what I thought he would say. It never helped. I still became defensive and angry, the conversation still went bad, and I still walked away thinking, “What the hell happened?”
Feeling tired lately? Look at the people around you. Negative people are energy hogs. They suck out all your energy.
They are not capable of producing their own positive energy and so they absorb yours like a sponge. Then, they complain because you are always tired. Feeling tired and run-down is bad for your immune system. It leaves you susceptible to all kinds of sicknesses. Of course, guess what happens if you get sick? Exactly.
So now what? Learning to live with a buzz-kill.
The number one approach to effectively deal with the negative input coming from the other person is to prevent it. That means you reduce or eliminate the amount of time you spend around them. Clearly, if your intent is to keep your relationship together, that is not helpful.
Pointing out the negativity and the effect it has on you is ineffective. Mostly, because they do not believe their attitude or feelings can affect you. They honestly think you are saying it does because you want to feel that way. It is useless to try to explain their negative attitude makes everyone else’s life miserable.
You can still practice prevention by helping them practice positive thoughts when they say negative things. Negative people are not necessarily angry and mean, they are just unable to think positive thoughts. I know, it sounds entirely too simplistic. If you can encourage a positive comment for every negative one, they slowly come to realize their view is a bit skewed. It is much easier to boost them up when they haven’t brought you down.
Sometimes, to save yourself, you will have to remove yourself from the situation. You cannot control what they think, say, or do. You can want it to be different but you cannot change their reality.
When my husband got into his “dark mode,” I began telling him that if he couldn’t find something positive to say, about anything, he would have to stop talking or I would have to leave the room. It didn’t help at all until I actually began walking away while he was still talking.
In the end
What I went through with him left me feeling angry, abused, and resentful. I spent 6 days in a behavioral facility because I had become so tired and depressed that I didn’t bother getting out of bed. It was the best 6 days of my married life. It was enough time to realize I still had a little spark inside me and if I fanned it just right, I was still capable of being happy.
I knew I could not live the way I had been living. I loved my husband, but I loved myself too and I would not sacrifice another day of my happiness for him. I learned how to protect my happiness and fostered a sense of peace within myself while at the same time making clear boundaries of what was acceptable behavior.
By demonstrating confidence, being consistent in my behavior, and not allowing myself to take on his negativity, my life became better.
None of this would have worked if he didn’t love me. If he was not interested in protecting our marriage, he would not have made the effort to change. His outlook on the world has improved significantly. It’s not great but it is better. With him making that (continued) effort, and me learning to set clear boundaries to protect my own happiness, we have found a place where we are both happier.
Andrew Newberg, M. a. (2012, August 01). The most dangerous word in the world. Retrieved from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/words-can-change-your-brain/201208/the-most-dangerous-word-in-the-world
Michigan State University. (2014, April 2). Biological evidence of positive and negative people in the world. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 1, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140402100052.htm
Jason S. Moser, Rachel Hartwig, Tim P. Moran, Alexander A. Jendrusina, Ethan Kross. Neural markers of positive reappraisal and their associations with trait reappraisal and worry.. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 2014; 123 (1): 91 DOI: 10.1037/a0035817