Saturday, November 19, 2011

Staying positive when surrounded by negativity

What does it mean to be positive person? Many people have different perceptions of what they believe positive people are, and are not. Generally, it is negative people who seem to have the most to say about them. These are the same people who become annoyed by motivational or empowering messages positive people share. They are defensive, confrontational, and will look for anything and everything to reverse those messages into something negative. I’m not certain what it really is that triggers or bothers them. Could it be these messages or statements make them feel unaligned of who they are compared to who they wish to become? Perhaps they take them as a personal judgment or feel they are somehow being insulted. Maybe the false perception they carry of what they consider to be a positive person’s character and beliefs, are the barrier to them becoming a positive person as well. Or is it they believe positive people are putting on a false persona and are aspiring to reach an impossible level of perfection? I have met an abundance of empowering positive people throughout my life which I have always enjoyed and appreciated being around. Based on my own positive attitude, as well as observing the same in others, I would like to share my definition of what I know and believe about positive people.

“Being positive doesn't mean every moment and every day is falsely perfect. Like everyone else, we all have bad days and face tough circumstances. Being positive isn't about suppressing negative emotions such as anger, hurt, or disappointment and replacing them with "positive" ones. It's simply embracing and understanding what it is that leads us to negative thoughts in the first place. Positive people choose not to wallow in misery or default to becoming or remaining a victim. Instead, we utilize our energy by exhibiting our gratitude and creating solutions. We believe in accountability, faith, hope, and authenticity” ~ Brenda Slavin, Coach, Elements of Your Life

For the longest time it did not occur to me, the company in which I was keeping, had any influence over me or my mood. Sure, I had been exposed to plenty of negative and critical people throughout my life. Yet, I was certain my strong desire to not be like them would protect me enough from leaving any kind of negative impression on me. Best known as the “Danny Downers and Negative Nellie’s” they can be sensed a mile away. These are people who are so weighted down by their own lack of happiness; they feel the need to expel their misery onto someone else. Their choice, preferably, is to find a positive person. Negative, critical people tend to be insecure, frustrated, bitter, resentful, argumentative, and angry. Simply put, they are a drag to be around.

After spending some time with a negative person, you note your baseline happy-go-lucky self becomes worn-out and despondent for what you believe to be no apparent reason. Indeed, there is a reason. Negative people possess a destructive aura, releasing their subtle “invisible toxicity” from themselves and placing it onto you. Being negative takes a lot of energy. Very quickly they become depleted; therefore, they need to steal your positive energy in order to restore themselves. Now it makes perfect sense that I used to consistently hear “I feel so much better after talking to you!” My thought was “Good for you, I feel like the life was just sucked out of me!”. After awhile recovering from feeling completely exhausted and drained, I vowed I could not continue to engage with the same negative people. Then the phone would ring, or they would come over, and the guilt would kick in that these people really needed me in their lives. Naturally, due to my acceptance along with the guilt trip I had placed on myself not to hurt another person’s feelings, the cycle continued and repeated. Before I knew it, I too began to feel consistently miserable!

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
~ Jim Rohn

Over time, my awareness of such people was further heightened as I invited more positive people into my life. It felt like I started seeing negative energy vampires everywhere. It wasn’t that there were an increased number of them, I just became more acutely aware of how encircled by negativity I actually was! These negative influences were family members, friends, coworkers, in addition to the media. The more I found myself in this cloud of dripping pessimism, the more I realized I did not just want to get out, I needed to get out. Their impact began to affect my attitude and my own motivation.

The first and easiest one to get rid was the negative media. The television went off completely and I only followed any “need to know” major news events from the newspaper or internet. I also only began listening to music on news/commercial free satellite radio. I didn’t need the constant reminders of all the negative happenings in the world. I’m well aware of the horrendous crimes that are committed on others, the corporate greed that ensues, misinformation, bias, and the relentless desire others have to argue and debate. Just listening to negative media, creates a trigger in many people bringing out anger and rage. It creates frustration as they feel a helpless victim, and can very well thrust them into a depression! Not long ago, I was placed in a waiting room with a television on while waiting for my car to be serviced. No kidding, after 30 minutes of the news, I went from being in a great mood to being angry at all the injustices of the world and disheartened by the selfishness that overtook someone’s morals at the expense of a child’s safety and emotional well being. Very few media sources offer any good news, hope, or solutions. They just repeat over and over the negative story, and consistently remind people how powerless and stuck they are living in a dreadful world. I made the decision not to engage in things I don’t personally believe in. What I don't believe is; most people are out to hurt one another, we should lose hope, this is an atrocious world to live in, or people are powerless victims. There are good people and good things happening in this world all the time, it’s just rarely reported or shared! Even on Facebook I began to notice the angry and negative status updates, the numerous shared links of horrific stories such as murder, child abuse, celebrity scandals, along with a ton of misinformation. I immediately utilized the delete and hide buttons and created a newsfeed of only positive people, who had something positive to share.

Next, I had to figure out how to handle the negative people that were currently in my life. I quickly and completely ceased interactions with negative acquaintances; that was easy. To cope with negative colleagues at work; I stopped listening to their personal negative stories, gossip and judgmental comments about others, consistent complaining, and only began to engage with them only on a professional level. There are no rules that state we have to allow everyone into our personal lives.

I was onto the more difficult challenge, what do I do about the remaining negative people in my life? I felt like I was down to two grueling choices; suck it up and accept them for who they are, enduring the consequences; or walk away from them removing them from my life completely. Ultimately, I made the decision, that some of them did need to be removed from my life altogether. Undeniably it was a difficult decision; however, I realized the relationship was far more damaging than it was encouraging.

So now all that lingered were the negative family members and close friends which I loved and didn’t want to lose. It became a struggle trying to figure out how to keep them in my life, without allowing their behavior to have an impact me. I noticed what I really wished for, was their behavior and attitude to change. Not just so I would no longer feel the poisonous effect, I genuinely wished for happiness for them. I wanted the people I care about to feel as good as I did waking up each day grateful, hopeful, and excited about the future. So I compromised with what I thought was the perfect solution. I spoke to each one explaining that I could no longer listen or engage in the negativity or criticism. If they wanted a relationship with me, their behavior and attitude needed to change. When they called or visited, and ultimately fell back into their old behavior pattern, I simply said I needed to go and hung up the phone or left. I waited and waited for the results. In my mind, I thought if they cherished our relationship enough, they would look inward, recognize their behavior and attitude, and would desire to make those changes in themselves. WRONG! I felt hurt and believed they didn’t think our friendship or relationship was worth the effort. What I did eventually learn, is we have no control over others behaviors, only of our own actions and responses. We do, however, have a choice in how much time we are willing to spend with them and if we allow their negativity to transfer over to us. I waxed and waned from being resentful of them and avoiding them, to missing them and wanting to spend time with them. My overall desire was to keep them in my life. After all, I loved them; I just needed to figure out how I was going to interact with them.

I had failed to see, was I had created an ultimatum. The reality is people are who they are and will be who they choose to be. Some seem perfectly content staying negative and miserable, regardless of the impact that places on anyone else. It was a few years later I learned there wasn't anything about their critical negative behavior for me to take personal. Remember, people who illuminate negativity are merely reflecting their own inner state, and regardless of their words or behavior, none of it has to personally do with you. Another thought I began to ponder is, do negative people really even want out of their negative circumstances? Some will accept them because it is more comfortable and safer to remain in unhappiness. Their fear of change and the “unknown” is far superior to their tolerance level of staying safely where they are.

Actually, it was when I started observing them from a sincere compassionate perspective, I discovered a completely different view. I really began to listen beyond their words and behaviors, and sought out the meaning behind them. What I discovered is most negative people don’t really want to be negative; they simply lack coping skills and fear change. Some even have a belief that has been instilled in them that they cannot set themselves up with false hope” because they will “jinx the outcome” and it may not work out. Refusing hope helps protect them from being hurt and helps validate their prediction it will turn out unsuccessful. Yet, without hope, what is there to ever look forward to? Some were raised and have lived negatively for so long; they have become complacent and conditioned to be negative. For others it is simply much easier and less painful to shift the focus from themselves to criticizing everything and everyone else around them. One of my favorite negative criticisms of all time came from a friend of mine who was complaining and whining about the same terrible circumstances she has remained in over the past 10+ years. I said something positive, in hopes to empower her and bring an end to her victim mentality. Her response was “We can’t all be Lil’ Miss Frigging Sunshine like you!” If the worse insult you can throw at me, is that I’m too happy and positive, then so be it I certainly can live with that.

Just because you are invited to a misery party, doesn’t mean you have to accept the invitation; misery loves company, and at anytime you can decline the offer. If you are consistantly surrounded by negative, fear-based people in your life, it will have an impact on who you eventually become and your progression in life. The good news is if you are well grounded, there may be only a limited impact that negative friends can place on you. However, know that you are also acquiring very limited benefits by spending time with people who are holding you back instead of surrounding yourself with people who will propel you forward. When you choose who you spend time with, you are literally shaping your own future. Begin by exploring the people you spend the most time with. Are these people encouraging you and cheering you on to be your most excellent self? If they are not, limit the amount of time you spend with them and analyze if they should continue to remain in your life or need to be limited. Recognize and invest your time with the people who will empower and encourage you to become the best person you can be.

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