Dealing with negativity

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    Jon King

    I try to always see things in a positive light but I am really struggling right now. At times, things seem truly hopeless and I find myself struggling to get out of bed in the morning. I have come to realize that there is a major factor contributing to my despair: negativity; i.e., negative people and negative situations.

    I wasn’t feeling like this a year ago. I had just quit a job I hated (long haul truck driver for six years) and was spending some much needed time with my friends. I had also just been introduced to the ideas of Buddhism, and, while I am not a Buddhist, I thought there was a lot of truth and wisdom in the teachings. I still learn as much as I can about Buddhism today; I also love to learn anything and everything having to do with the mind–particularly, ideas of transpersonal psychology and unity consciousness. I love the idea of being one with the earth, moon, and stars; the tree, grass, and dirt; there is something magical in these ideas that makes me feel both less and more significant as a human being.

    But my reality is not thus. I took a job around the same time where I quickly learned that people are really, really nasty to each other over the simplest things everyday. I also find myself living with someone who does nothing but complain. I tried to bring my new “unity” view over into my “real life,” but I feel I have seriously failed. I find that being around negative people and in these negative situations has somewhat sucked me into the negativity; i.e., I find myself being negative along with them, and then getting extremely angry with myself for being negative. Or, I get extremely angry with the negative people because I don’t think there is any reason at all to be negative. To get to the point, I am finding myself turning all my energy into anger because either I am negative, or I am mad because other people are being negative.

    I don’t know how to deal with people’s negativity in a healthy way; it’s not that I don’t get their complaints–I do–but I don’t see how dealing with it the way they do will help the situation. I have tried to explain to a few people my thoughts and they just seem to get angry because they think I am judging and criticizing the way they are handling the situation, which is in no way what I mean to do. I really want people to be happy, and I think they can be happy as long as they see past their own restrictions and limitations they place on their happiness.

    My question is, how do you deal with negative people and negative situations? How do you not let it “get to you?”


    That’s hard! I found that detaching myself from those people and situations was the best thing for me, at least when I kept getting caught up in the negativity – it’s like these people are rolling down the yucky negative hill and you end up going down with them!! So, when I knew I couldn’t stand my ground in a positive way I detached and it helped me a lot. Then, later after many months if I was around one of these people again, I felt stronger and was able to not engage with their negativity and be pulled in/down by it. I found surrounding myself with positive ideas – in books, people, nature, friendships, new activities, exercise, healthy fresh food, sunshine if you can get it, inspiring art, ,making the most of whatever my community had to offer around me; all these things really helped and still do help me a lot.
    Good luck to you, I’m sure you will find a way of getting on a more positive path and staying there! Peace.

    Jon King

    Thanks for your reply, but what if I don’t want to detach from the people who are being negative? What if I see something in them, something that if just slightly altered could change their perception and their view of life? I know you can’t change people, they have to do it on their own, but should I not try to be of assistance in any way I can?

    I am not trying to proselytize my views to people but sometimes I afraid that is what ends up happening. I refuse to give up on people I care about. I want to see love in all people but it is so difficult sometimes because of the negativity.



    I can understand your feeling very well and can relate to those experiences and thoughts. What helps me is knowing, like you siad, that I cannot change others, but I can change myself, my perceptions, and my reactions to what is happening around me. Yes, optimally you would disassociate from “negative” people, but like you siad, if you care about them, you do not want to completely cut off the relationships.

    It me, it is like this – I trained myself to become an impartial observer whenever I encounter negativity. It starts with awareness of what is happening, how it makes me feel, and what I am thinking when I am exposed to it. Little by little, I started modifying my thoughts … accepting that I cannot change the people around me, accepting and knowing that not everything lasts forever (they are not always negative), and changing my behavior around them. For instance, when they are positive, I offer more smiles, more interaction, more warmth. When they are negative, I withdraw from the situation. I have also expressed my feelings, however, this can only be received if the other person is receptive, so more of the work is done within myself.

    Another helpful thing, like Eliza suggested, is to make opportunities for yourself where you are surrounded by pleasant experiences. Walks in nature, meditation, any activities that make you feel good about the world and yourself. It is an imposibility that everything will always be perfect and pleasant but you can learn to maximize pleasant experiences and in a way objectify the unpleasant by becoming an observer rather than a participant.

    Also remember that nothing happens overnight. The change in you will be gradual but do not despair, just keep practicing. Such as a baby learns to walk, it does not happen overnight, it takes time, so do any changes we wish to make in our lives.

    Another thing to consider is that this negativity around you can be seen as a sort of “gift” rather than a hinderance. By introspecting and modifying your reactions/thoughts, you will become a more resillient person. I have found that nothing in life is permanent, so eventually, the outside circumstances will change, whether you choose to remove yourself from those situations or they eventually morph into something else.

    Wishing you peace and much positivity,



    In addition to the other wisdom presented, consider that part of the failing may rest in seeing this “negative” vs “positive” duality. Powerful emotions, such as anger, are not “negative”… they’re painful. Painful for you sensing them, and painful for others in feeling them. Said differently, it is an odd and unnecessary step to label the lion’s roaring as negative, because it comes from the painfulness of the thorn in its paw. This is something you already see, however, that perhaps one little twist might free your brothers and sisters from the habitual suffering.

    That view arises from your metta, or your desire to see other people happy and content. What a blessing that is! Thank you, for carrying that torch. Now, it is also no surprise that the torch goes out and you get pissy. “Stop polluting my world with your bullshit” or “if you’d only listen and change, you’d overcome this crap”. This might seem like a reasonable response, but of course it isn’t.

    The way I balance being strongly empathic and connecting with people that roar, takes a little practice, but it solves the compression inside my mind that leads to anger. Consider the outflow of emotions from people like poop. People eat, then they poop, and depending on what they eat, their poop smells in different ways. People experience their reality, and depending on what they harvest from it, their emotions vibrate in different ways. They perceive injustice, it comes out in such and such a way. They eat spicy curry, it comes out in such and such a way. No surprises, really, just cause and effect. Eat to poop. Experiences to emotions.

    So the goal, then, is to be able to experience the emotion in a different way. Consider walking into a bathroom, and smelling the after effects of the person before you. Sure, you might wail and bemoan the stink, but what use does that have? “If only you ate more fiber, this would all be different” or “if only you were more aware/awake/loving/wise then this emotion wouldn’t arise for you, stinking up the place”. On one hand its true, that people can grow toward deeper satisfaction and happiness if they get more spiritual fiber. However, when you take the stink personally, make it about you, then you naturally move toward their frequency, digest their food, become angry yourself, and suffer.

    The solution is actually quite simple, but requires pratice. We let it pass through us. My teacher used an example of a strong wind on our front door. It may make sense to try to close the door, keep the wind out. Ignoring their anger, removing ourselves from the presence of angry people, surrounding ourselves with pleasant objects and people. However, this only produced a conditional stability. As soon as we have to weather an angry person, the door flies open and we become lost in our own anger.

    Instead, we can open the front door and the back door, and let it pass right through us. This is like going into the bathroom, smelling the stink, accepting its impermanence, and letting our body breathe normally. We sort of “step aside” from the stink of it and breathe in and out. We breathe in stink, and breathe out peace. We see their suffering, and breathe out peace. Yes, there is the appearance of anger, and that is sad for him… anger is a painful emotion. But its not about us, we can breathe, be aware of our breath, of our body, and let it pass right by.

    If you don’t have a regular meditation practice, consider beginning one. As you grow your empathy, more and more pressure bangs on the front door, and so remaining peaceful amidst the chaos becomes a very handy tool. Breath meditation helps build concentration, which allows us to be steadfast and grounded when the lions are roaring. Said differently, if you spend time on the cushion developing mindfulness, it is easier to remain intentionally spacious when others are tossing stuff at you.

    Finally, consider that when you have that spaciousness to see others energy without getting “sucked in”, then you will also become more skillful at helping them from their side. It is not helpful to tell someone about what step 15 looks like when they are at step 3. They need step 4, then 5, then 6 and so forth. Knowing where they are and what might help them take the next steps toward inner contentment requires deep listening and patience. This is a natural result of becoming more grounded yourself. For instance, it may seem reasonable to advise someone to eat more fiber, but the eating habits may be a symptom, not a cause. So, pushing them to “just eat more apples, dammit” is not as helpful as hugging them, whereby they don’t compensate for their lack of connection with others with habitual eating… and they naturally make more skillful choices without pressure. Where to aim springs up from the heart, which is a softer voice than the mind. Meditation helps the mind become less entangled in the outside, so the inside remains fluid and open.

    Namaste, brother, may your roots grow thick and deep.

    With warmth,

    Jon King

    Thanks to everybody for their kind words and wisdom, it has really helped.

    The funny thing is, sometimes I find myself being able to deal with negative situations. It almost like I don’t care (not caring isn’t the correct word because I actually care so much, but it is the only word I can think of to describe it so it will have to suffice). Then there are times when I think my head is going to explode. Sometimes I just want to tell people to shut the hell up. I don’t know what it is, but it seems like most people I know will find the one negative thing about a situation and focus on it. I really can’t stand that and I’m beginning to see that that’s OK. I am human; I am allowed to have feelings and emotions and it’s perfectly reasonable that I get angry. I spend a lot of time and energy trying to fight that anger and I need to just let it be what it is. I need to take myself out of stressful and negative situations; I’m seriously working on that at the moment.

    My “introduction” to all of this type of thinking came from the works of Marshal Rosenberg and his ideas about non-violent communication. Although I think NVC can be limiting to growth to a certain extent, I’ll never forget one thing Mr. Rosenberg said–never do anything that you don’t want to do. I have changed a lot in the past few years to live a bit closer to this adage but it continues to be a process. I guess it always will be.

    • This reply was modified 10 years, 3 months ago by Jon King.
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