Friday, November 20, 2009

Dealing with the "Pit of Soul-Sucking Negativity"

I am closely related to a cynic.

Yep. It is the tag he proudly bestows upon himself, as if being a "cynic" was some sort of badge proclaiming his higher intellectual capabilities. Every aspect of his being is narrowly focused on projecting the image of a jaded, world-weary soul who is alone in his ability to see things for "how they really are."

But sadly, for him and anyone who happens to spend more than a few minutes with him, the only "ability" he has is to see the ugly, negative, and hateful about other people. And he makes his opinions loudly clear--whether he is referring to some public figure, a coworker, a segment of society or, if you're unlucky enough to be in his sites, you. He cannot see the good in anyone or anything because he flatly refuses to believe "good" exists. In his view, people are only out for themselves, and even when someone does something nice--even something as innocuous as smile or offering a glass of ice tea--he or she is doing it for ulterior motives.

He wasn't always this way--and occasionally there are flashes of the man he might have been, had he not so carefully nurtured this studied persona of cynicism. I know he does it to protect himself from rejection, but unfortunately for him, by acting the way he does he is virtually guaranteeing that the rejection he so deeply fears will actually happen. The simple truth is: nobody wants to be around a guy who is the pit of soul-sucking negativity. And as he is rejected, his attitude is reinforced. It's a terrible cycle that can't be stopped but anyone but him.

I know many families have their own version of this person. Dealing with them can be exhausting and downright depressing. With Thanksgiving a mere six days away, and the attendant stress that inevitably accompanies bringing families together, the question becomes: how do I deal with this person? Because let's face it, they won't change. It's up to us, as the sisters, brothers, aunts, parents (name your relation) of this person to figure out a way to put their negativity in perspective, and ensure the day is a pleasant one for everyone. I know, it doesn't seem fair that we should have to accommodate an a-hole, but sometimes, in the interest of peace, we have to be the bigger person.

So here are six tips I've used in the past to deal with Mr. Soul-Sucker that have been reasonably successful:

1.) Don't argue! This one should be obvious, but as much as I've tried to pound this into my own brain when dealing with "the cynic", I've risen to his bait more than once. His eyes positivity light up if he thinks an argument is coming, and because he truly is a highly intelligent man (IQ in the 140s) who reads constantly (thus having tidbits of knowledge I have no way of instantly responding to in the middle of an argument, i.e.: "Chilsholm vs. Georgia, 1793 as applied to overreaching state governments, ala public schools") and likes to override whenever someone else is speaking, he will "win" these arguments, leaving me angry, frustrated, with my mood in tatters.

2.) Smile. Smile, smile, smile, even if it feels like your head is going to crack open from the effort. Even if you feel your insides seething and broiling. By smiling, you accomplish two things: 1.) you show them they are not getting to you (even if they are, do your best to keep that smile on your face) and soon they will move off that topic and 2.) You will soon start to feel better. You will realize the humor of the situation, and you will feel yourself start to relax. I promise this works. An added bonus: you're not playing into their negativity, and thus helping keep positive energy in the room.

3.) Have sympathy. The hell you say! Sympathy for that pompous jerk? As if! But truly, many of these cynical, emotional black-hole types are deeply unhappy people. Imagine what it would be like to wake up every day feeling so angry and frustrated with the world and the people in it? There must be very little these people look forward to. All they have is their negativity. And that's really not very much, when you think about it.

4.) Put them to work. Yup. I've noticed that when I ask my cynic to help out, he grumbles, but he does it fairly willingly. Give him or her a simple but important task like setting up an extra table or bringing in some chairs. It keeps them busy, makes them feel important, and best of all, gets them out of your hair (even if it's just for a little while).

5.) Don't just walk away! I'm sure you've probably heard the exact opposite, and believe me, I've tried it, but all that does is add fuel to the flames, and you end up with either 1.) that person following you into the next room to continue his or her negative ravings or 2.) angering them and thus incurring their wrath at a later time, mostly like at the dinner table just after the blessing is said. Instead, smile politely (smile, smile, smile!), thank them for their input, and excuse yourself with an "reason". As in, "That's very interesting, but little Johnny is giving the cat a bath in the toilet and I really must attend to the situation." You get the idea.

6.) Tell them you love them. Nothing is guaranteed to throw a negative person off-balance quicker than saying you love them. Because deep down, it's what they want--need--to hear. Inside, they are hurt little children who can't believe that anyone could love them. By telling them that you do, you're taking them outside of their own pain and disappointment, even if just for an instant, and giving them a glimmer of warmth. They may not respond--they may even laugh in your face, as has happened to me--but they will hear it. And they will think about it (hopefully in a positive way!).

Of these, the most successful for me thus far seems to be #3--have sympathy. In the big picture, nothing my cynic says will effect the overall outcome of my life (caveat being: unless I let it.) His rants about the government, or the public schools, or the guy who painted his house, or the neighbor down the street, or the drivers on the freeway, or the checker at the grocery store, or the rude teenagers, or the incompetents he works infinitum...don't change the fact that my life, and my dealings with others is, on the whole pretty positive. Keep this in mind when dealing with your "negative nancy" and you'll find that you can have a smooth, happy, positive holiday no matter what they say or do.

Oh, and a last, unofficial tip: at the end of the night as they're leaving, give them a tight hug, a big sloppy kiss, and tell them how terrific it was to see them. That'll show 'em.

Happy holidays!

Good sites with more tips on dealing with complainers, grousers, whiners, and other soul-suckers in out lives, check out these sites:

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