"Keep away from those who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you believe that you too can become great." - Mark Twain
I choose to surround myself with people who support and encourage me. People who lift me up and who I can depend on. Most of the people in my life are very healthy for me, and I love them very much. But what has been the most surprising to me is how one negative person can do so much damage. This person is the only unhealthy person in my life who I deeply care about. Because I care about him so much, he’s had the power to make me feel like I am less than what I am. I feel small, like I have less value and worth, and like I’m a bad person. Though I know all those things are not true, it’ll only takes a few words from him to shatter me.
I have spent a long time trying to fight him. I’ve tried to fight his negativity with my positivity. I’ve tried to argue with him to change his mind about me, and generally change his negative view towards people. I’ve tried to show him that I’m a good person. I’ve revealed his faults so that he would stop focusing so much on mine. I’ve even tried ignoring his negative words and not let them affect me. But none of that worked. It only exhausted me so much that I felt broken and unable to move forward.
And now I finally read something that told me I was handling the situation all wrong. Klassy Evans, editor of the books, Principles For Personal Growth and Self-Help Stuff That Works, says that when there is someone in your life who brings you down, who belittles you as a person, or minimizes your experiences, “it is a natural, normal, healthy response to want to fight it.” But you cannot fight it, and further, you shouldn’t. She asks, “If you try to fight it, what if you win? Was it a pleasant way to spend your time?” She adds that you probably won’t win. You cannot change anyone but yourself. You have no control over anyone’s actions, but your own. She says, “It's an exercise in futility and frustration to try to get a person to change (especially when they don't want to change and even more especially when you do it with fighting).”
Someone has damaged you and is bringing you down, “If you feel less motivated, if you feel worse about yourself, [and] if you're more aware of your faults,” says Evans. She explains that we are happiest when we feel we are making progress toward our goals and dreams, no matter how big or small. But a person who makes us feel bad can greatly slow our progress, stop it, or move it back, which causes sadness.
They can damage us in a lot of ways. By being brought down, you are “less able to access your intelligence,” because being upset makes you feel confused and like you can’t sort through your thoughts. It’s also easier to do unethical things, such as lie, avoid facing problems, and be sneaky. Evans explains, “Most of the things you've done in your life that you're ashamed of are things you've done when you feeling negative emotions.” She adds that when people make us feel angry, sad, or fearful, our perception on life gets distorted, “Anger biases you to see more trespass. Sadness biases you to see more loss. Fear biases you to see more danger.” So when someone brings you down, he or she is actually contributing to you being a worse person, and to being more negative.
Negative people can also affect our health in a lot of bad ways, but positivity can bring more benefits than the damage of negativity. Evans references an experiment by Arthur Stone at the University of New York, in which it was discovered, “A good event like an enjoyable time with a friend or getting a compliment on your work increases your body's production of immune cells for two or three days. On the other hand, something negative, like criticizing yourself or arguing with someone depresses your immune system, but only for one day.”
Everyone has bullies in their lives – people who make you feel worse about yourself. They disregard your struggles and triumphs and make them seem trivial. You feel drained and in a worse mood after spending time with them, or even just by thinking of them. They criticize what you do and how you live your life, and make you feel very defensive. They make you feel small and worthless. The simplest and best thing would seem to just cut them out of your life, but that's not always easy to do. And when it's someone you care about, or family, then you need to find a healthy way to let them stay in your life without them hurting you. So, what should you do about those negative people in your life?
The first is to have compassion for them. Evans says, “people who bring you down are not happy people.” When people like their lives and feel good about themselves, they aren’t likely to put someone else down, except by accident once in a while. When I was in second grade, there was this girl who made fun of me a lot. She said I had a frog face. That comment doesn’t seem like much to an adult, but to a kid, it was hurtful and I did not like that girl at all. When I told my mom about it, she said to me, “You know how I read to you every night and tuck you in? What if that little girl doesn’t get tucked in every night? What if she doesn’t have a mommy or daddy? She’s not being mean for no reason.” You never know what another person is going through and why they feel the need to belittle others in order to feel better about themselves. Sometimes, the bullying is so unintentional and just comes very natural, which is sad.
The next thing Evans says to do is “be vague.” She explains, “If you are open with your life and share information freely with someone who brings you down, they will use that information against you somehow.” So, be vague about your own life, such as by answering questions in a general way and not giving specific details. You can also focus the conversation on their life. Even if they are negative about their own life, it is easier to forget it afterward than to dismiss their thoughts on your life.
You can also “find something better to do.” Evans says, to achieve happiness, there are two things we want: to feel good, and to make progress. Making progress toward a goal can mean the same as being productive in some way. So, she says you have four possibilities: 1. “You can do something that feels good and makes progress;” 2. “You can feel good without making progress;” 3. “You can make progress without feeling good;” 4. “You can do something that doesn't feel good and doesn't make any progress.” The best place to be is in the first possibility, and the worst is in the fourth. Making progress without having fun is better than the fourth option. And having fun without making progress can still lift your spirits, which is also better than the fourth option. By listening to someone who you brings you down, you are not feeling good or making progress. Also, if you are trying to bring that person down, you are also not feeling good or making progress. Do something else.
Evans says, “Taking good care of yourself is like building an immunity to people who bring you down. They are less able to infect you.” Further, “There are four things you can do to make yourself bigger and more able to handle the people who bring you down:”
1. “Do something good for your body because your body has been damaged” - Take care of your body. Treat yourself in some way. Get a massage. Eat healthy. Exercise.
2. “Do something good for the world you live in because depression is a conviction that you're helpless” – Volunteer, even if it’s only once a month.
3. “Do something to learn so you're more able to handle the situation you're in” – Learning more about your situation, or the other person, can help bring acceptance and understanding.
4. “Get it said” – Talk to someone about what you’re feeling, or write it down.
Evans holds courses to help improve people’s well-being. She included one of her transcribed sessions in her article, “How to Handle People Who Bring You Down.” In her class, she asked two volunteers to go to one side of the room. They each chose a person of about equal weight and size to be their “barrier.” The two volunteers had to reach their goal of walking to the other side of the room. The two “barriers” had to wrap their arms around them and hold them back.
The first time the volunteers tried to walk across the room, the instructor asked them to look down at the arms that were holding them back, and she said, “Think of a mistake you've made... Now think of something good in your life... and realize it's not going to last... Think of something bad in your life... and realize it's probably permanent... and you're going to have to deal with it for the rest of your life... Think about a weakness you have, a fault you have, something that holds you back... Think of something that stands in your way and prevents you from getting what you want... and realize it is more than you can handle... Add up all the barriers you can think of that stand in your way... and all your personal weaknesses... and come to grips with the fact that your goal is completely hopeless... You'll save yourself a lot of heartache if you just give up now...” When she asked them to cross the room, both volunteers hesitated and then slowly struggled to walk a few steps.
She asked them to go back, and then held a golden star for them to look at, and said, “Think of something good in your life... it's probably going to last... Think of something bad in your life... it's temporary, you'll get through it... Think of some success you've had...a time when you did something and you won or it came out right and you felt really pleased with yourself, proud of yourself... When you think about a new challenge, you can remember, ‘Well, if I could do that, I can do this.’ Think of all the strengths you have, talents that many other people don't have... There are quite a few once you start thinking about it... Keep your eyes on the goal (the golden star). Remember a time when you did very well at something... and I want you to know if you did very well once, you can do very well again... I want you to know a lot of people are behind you and want to help you... You will reach your goal! You have the strength. You have the talent. You have the determination.” When she told them to go, they both ran with smiles on their faces and crossed the room even with the “barriers” around their waists holding them back.
This example perfectly depicts what can happen when there is someone in your life being positive and encouraging, and when they are doing the opposite. Often, our own worst bully can be ourselves, and we should be aware of how negative or positive we are towards ourselves and others. Evans says, “Depression is a conviction of your own helplessness, a conviction that you can't make a difference, that you have no effect… When you physically accomplish something that you can see, it weakens your conviction that you're helpless. Your accomplishment, no matter how small, is proof positive that you can cause and effect.”
You are not helpless. You are full of power. You are not worthless. You have more value than you know. You are not a terrible person. You have much goodness in you. Your struggles, triumphs, and experiences are valid. Don’t think less of them. Evans advises us to take time to let others know they are appreciated, and to notice the good in our lives. She says, “You can make them bigger and better able to handle difficulties in their life, just by letting them know they're valuable.” You are not the only one is being brought down by others, because you probably also take part in bringing others down, even if unintentional. But you can be brought up by lifting up others. You have the power to bring positivity and value to another person, as well as yourself.