You know the type. The melancholy girl, the persecuted guy. That one person you know who spreads their own brand of misery wherever they go. Maybe you’re unlucky enough to have several of them in your life.
There are a few for me, and each one is unique, and I have to handle them differently. Quite frankly, it’s exhausting and potentially detrimental to me. What does that even mean?
Let me give you one of my examples. One of the biggest downers in my life, we’ll call her Sarah, has affected me in ways I am only now realizing. Between her negativity and ‘poor me’ attitude, she tapped into my overly developed empathy and brought me so low I’m not sure how to pull myself back out of the hole she dug for me.
I’ve barely written in months. For some reason, every time I sat down to work doubts, fears, and sadness overwhelmed me to the point of immobility. I stared at my pen or screen and did…nothing. Why should I? It was going to suck anyway. Why bother to try when I would fail in the end. Why move that pen when only junk would come out of it.
WHAT THE BLOODY HELL? That wasn’t me talking! Well, it was the old me, but not the me who wrote steadily for many years now. Nor the me who overcame those fears long ago. So who was it?
Sarah. Poor sad, despondent Sarah. The woman who enjoys living in her hell and spreads her misery in all directions. We all have some degree of empathy. For me, it’s so stupidly strong that I will start actually to feel the intense emotions of those around me. It sucks. I don’t see Sarah all that often, but it’s enough that her wretched aura got to me. For months.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming everything on the girl. I’m fully capable of screwing myself over with writing. However, in this case, she shares some of the blame. The truth is, she’s brought down my entire writing group. All of us have been down for months. Empathy is real people, and we have little control over it. She doesn’t mean to bring those around her down, but damn, she’s good at it. Just like I don’t intend to let it get to me.
Ironically, she complains when others do it to her. She once told a group I was in that she hates people exactly like her. HA!
Anyway, what can one do to guard against someone else affecting you in this way? Wish I knew. I do have some guesses though, things I will try to put into action.
Avoid the source of misery. Sometimes this is mostly impossible. What if it’s a close friend or family member? Unless you live with the person, you can limit the time you spend with them. No matter how you feel about someone, if they are toxic, you need to get away at least some of the time.
Tell them. Okay, this one is hard, and I won’t be doing this. It will only add to her problems. Guilt won’t change her anyway.
Encourage them. This won’t work. Not if they don’t want it to. Some people are content being down. It can be a comfortable alternative to effort and accountability. Still, if they are in your life, you probably care about them, and your good will might mean a lot. Besides, empathy works both ways. Maybe your positivity will fight against their opposing attitude.
Recognize what is happening and do whatever you can to counter it. Now that I know that part of my issue is others bringing me down I can tell my negative feelings to suck it! When I say to myself that writing is a waste of time because I’ll fail, I can remind myself those are not MY words. That aspect of myself is small and tied down. I’ll always have doubts, but they will not cripple me the way they did in the past.
Share your story. I’m well past some of the bad feelings I’ve picked up from others, but they are Not. So I can tell them what I went through and how I overcame these things. It may or may not help them, but at least the effort is there on my part.
If all else fails (in my case), use ear buds. Doesn’t make sense, right? Empathy is about feeling what others are feeling. However, loud music and putting my head down to write can distract me from what is being said and felt. Something is better than nothing when the misery in the air is loud.
What a rant! I’m not as angry as this sounds. I’m simply drained and tired of it all.
As much as I’ve been affected by some others in my life, what I choose to do is my responsibility. Like I said before, not every writing difficulty is 100% Sarah’s fault. But it’s important to acknowledge the effect she’s had on me. I advise you to do the same with the people in your life who did the same to you. If you don’t realize what’s happening, you can’t take steps.
Don’t feel guilty for not wanting to be brought down. Know it’s not your responsibility to fix someone, whether they want to be fixed or not. All you can control is you. I’m choosing to do something about the situation. I have enough roadblocks in my life as it is. I don’t need this one.
File it under self-care and convince yourself that taking care of you is the most important thing.
I think many of these people see themselves as ‘victims’. It’s easy to sympathize with them at first. But when it becomes a pattern we need to develop a plan of action to protect ourselves so that we don’t become their victims. Thanks for the suggestions!
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The first thing in my line of defense against toxic negativity is Caller ID. Screening calls like a mofo.
Ditto. Thanks for the suggestions.
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