The Deliciousness of Dealing with a Negative Person

“It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s de-lovely.”

-Cole Porter

By Leo Babauta

We’ve all felt the frustration of having someone in our lives who seems constantly negative — complaining, getting offended by small things, angry, pessimistic.

This can be very difficult, draining us of energy and turning our minds to negativity as well.

One solution that many recommend is to cut these people out of your life. And yes, if they are harming you, or you just cannot get to a healthy mental place with them in your life, then cutting them out of your life can be a step toward healing yourself.

But there’s another way to consider as well, especially if you’re in a place where you can focus on growing yourself beyond your old patterns that might not be serving you.

And that’s learning to find the deliciousness in this negative person.

Let me explain. Here’s this person who is complaining, negative, critical, and they are in your life. Perhaps they’re a loved one, and you care about them. In truth, this person is hurting. And you know what it’s like to hurt like this … because you are hurting right now in very much the same way.

When this person is critical of you, you feel the stress and pain of that criticism. You might not realize it, but you do — otherwise, you wouldn’t be frustrated or irritated with them for being a negative person. You’re reacting to them in the same way they’re reacting to you — with negativity. You’re both feeling similar pain, and both reacting out of old patterns of criticism, complaining, anger, frustration.

So you see how their negativity affects you, and you know you don’t want to do the same to others. You see that this negativity festers in them, and makes them unhappy. You see how painful that must be, and you don’t want that for yourself.

And so the change must start with you, right now. If you don’t want to be negative like that, then start right now — can you be loving and positive towards this person who is negative in your life?

A Practice for Negative People

Here’s how you might work with the energy of a negative person:

  1. See this person’s’ pain, with compassion. If the person is being negative, it’s because they’re feeling stress, pain, unhappiness, insecurity, uncertainty. You certainly know what it’s like to feel these things — in fact, you might be feeling some of them right now. See the negativity as an old habit that is masking their pain. See if you can feel compassion for that pain, which you have also experienced.
  2. See that they have an old pattern that is unhelpful. Their pattern, when they feel this pain, is to lash out, complain, criticize, stew in negativity. At some point, that might have helped them get through difficult times. But it’s not serving them anymore. You can see, with compassion, that they are stuck in this old pattern. And recognize that you, just like everyone else, also have old unhelpful patterns that are tough to get rid of. In this way, the two of you are connected.
  3. Feel love for them. If this person is a loved one, it’s especially helpful to practice pouring your love out to them, even if you say nothing. Just feeling it in your heart is enough. They might feel the love, but they might not — even then, it transforms /you/. You then shift how you are towards them, coming from a place of love. If this person isn’t a loved one but a colleague or even a person you don’t know well … can you open your heart to feeling love for others who aren’t close to you? This might be a heart-opening shift for most people, well worth the discomfort of stretching into something new.
  4. See the beauty in them, and love that as well. They have negativity, pain, old patterns … but they also have a beautiful heart, and lots of amazing qualities that can get obscured by the negativity. See this beauty, behold their hurting heart, and have your breath taken away by this human being in front of you.
  5. See the deliciousness in their negative energy. When someone is being negative, there is an energy that is pouring out of them and into you. It can be an energy that we don’t like … but it doesn’t have to be. We can open up to this energy, and savor its taste, learning to appreciate its little nuances. We can find the deliciousness in it, dropping our old characterization of this energy, and seeing it afresh. It’s just an experience, just like it’s an experience to feel the sensations of basking in the sun, feeling a breeze on your skin, submerging into a warm bath. Relish this experience, and you’ll be open to a much wider range of experience than ever before.

It’s a transformative practice that will shift your relationship to others. And when someone gives you a negative energy, you can delight in the opportunity this gives you to practice.

Very Important Caveats

With all that said, there are some important counterpoints to remember:

  • It’s absolutely OK to set boundaries. If you need to protect yourself from getting hurt, or you need some time away from this person (or need some time alone), speak up for your boundaries. It’s OK to not let yourself be abused or hurt. Protect yourself. It’s only from this place of being protected and having boundaries that we can do this work.
  • You can also gift them with honesty. If the other person is being overly negative, critical, playing the victim … it’s one thing to practice seeing the beauty in all of that, but once you do, you can come from a place of love when you share with them the impact of their negativity on you, on others, on them. It’s a good practice to share this kind of honesty, so that you’re not holding back from others, and they can benefit from seeing how they’re impacting others. It doesn’t have be done in a negative, critical, angry way, but can be from a place of compassion and non-judgment.
  • You can do the same kind of work for yourself: When you see your own pain, your own negativity, feel love for yourself, and se the deliciousness in your own energy.
  • It’s OK to not practice this “perfectly.” You might not always find their negative energy delicious. You might not always find compassion for them. That’s OK – see if you can find glimpses of compassion, flashes of love, nibbles of deliciousness. Practice in whatever capacity you can, and see what happens!

Are you open to this kind of practice? What would it be like for you to open to the deliciousness of every kind of energy?

Source: Zen Habits