IT IS THE MOST natural thing in the world
to dislike the people in your life who bring you down. We tend
to feel angry and frustrated with them. But keep in mind that
they aren't born that way. Children aren't usually born
with genes that make them frustrate and anger other people
it is a learned trait. And it's usually learned because it
happened to them.
It happens like this: Let's say I'm in
a position of authority a parent, for instance
and I bring you down. I make you feel sad or angry or sorry for
yourself or whatever. Since I'm the one who's winning all the
time, you'll start to think that the only way you can win is
to be able to bring people down. In circumstances like this,
you would quickly learn that to be a winner you need to bring
"If we could read the secret history
of our enemies," wrote William Wadsworth Longfellow, "we
should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to
disarm all hostility."
THE OTHER KIND
That's one form. The other form of people
who bring you down are those people who are not deliberately
trying to bring you down, but who bring you down because a) you
love them, and b) they are miserable. Dealing with someone you
love who acts against his own interests can bring you down. There
may be psychological causes for this, or even brain damage that
causes the person to act in a self-defeating way, but it can
drive you crazy trying to save him from himself.
Either way, people who bring you down are
not happy people. When you understand this, you will have some
compassion for them. When someone feels good and likes what's
happening in her life, she's not likely to bring other people
down (except maybe by accident once in a great while). When you
feel good about yourself, you don't belittle others. It is people
who have trouble and misery, people who don't feel good who bring
If someone feels bad about themselves,
they can notice something bad about you and point it out, and
they feel more equal to you, which brings them up a little. Or
they are simply down or out of control and it brings you down
because you love them.
It's important to be cautious in dealing
with these people, but I also want you to have a degree of compassion
for them. I could probably take anyone and if I put him down
long enough and hard enough, he would probably eventually start
doing it himself.
At the same time, be cautious of these
people. What they're doing when they bring you down is very dangerous
to you. It's not lightweight. Later, we'll describe a demonstration
we do in our courses that illustrates what happens to you when
someone brings you down. It's something to take seriously.
HOW CAN YOU TELL?
There are lots of different kinds of people
who bring you down. On one extreme is the very gruff person with
an obvious chip on her shoulder, and when she comes in the room,
she makes no bones about the fact that she is going to put you
down or invalidate your ideas. You have no doubt who those people
On the other extreme, you have people who
are very polite and gracious. And yet, after talking with them,
somehow you're aware of your faults and shortcomings, your limitations,
the misery or danger of everything, etc. These people may compliment
you and smile and do all the other stuff you associate with a
friend, and yet somehow you feel bad after being with him or
Once upon a time there was a very powerful
man. He was a really nice guy to a lot of people. He was a dutiful
son to a very doting mother. He loved children and dogs. He was
a vegetarian. He didn't smoke or drink. His chauffeurs and secretaries
loved him. He came to power in a country in the depths of a horrible
runaway inflation and turned it around, making his country one
of the strongest economic powers in the world. He had done so
well, he was Time Magazine's Man of the Year in 1938.
His name was Adolf Hitler.
People can be gracious, kind and thoughtful,
and still bring you down. Hitler brought down millions of people
and completely destroyed millions more. Someone can bring you
down with a smile. It can be somewhat confusing at times to know
who is bringing you down. Appearances can be deceiving. Some
people, of course, you know for sure, but what about the others?
You can't just say anyone who criticizes you is someone to look
out for because some people can bring you down without making
even the slightest criticism. Some can do it without even uttering
On the other hand, people who love you
and support you and make you stronger sometimes criticize you
and it does you good. You might pay a racquetball coach,
for example, to come onto the court and help you improve your
game. What she will do is criticize you and tell you where you
could be better and how you're doing things wrong. But the criticism
is designed to make better at the game, not to stop you from
playing. It's still a criticism; it might hurt your feelings
a bit, but it makes your game better and that brings you up.
THE LITMUS TEST
The way to tell whether a person is someone
who brings you down or not is to ask yourself a question the
moment you disconnect from him. The moment you hang up the phone,
the moment he drives off in his car, stop and ask yourself, "What
was the result of my contact with him?" Do you feel inspired
and more able to go on and get what you want out of life? Or
do you feel doubtful now because maybe your idea is not such
a good one after all? Do you feel confused? Have you been convinced
your goal will take more of an effort than it's worth? Or that
your chances are very small? Do you feel in a worse mood because
he talked about all the bad news in the paper or his did he talk
about his own personal miseries that he somehow won't do anything
If you feel less motivated, if you feel
worse about yourself, if you're more aware of your faults, then
regardless of how smiley and friendly that person is, he has
damaged you and brought you down.
Start being aware of how you feel after
you've been in contact with people. And cut some slack because
we all have bad days and we're all grumpy sometimes. Try to detect
who chronically or consistently brings you down. Every
time you're around that person, you come down. Is there a person
in your life who brings you down almost every time you interact
with him? Think about that now.
HOW THEY DO IT
There are some common ways people use to
bring you down. Knowing their methods will make it easier for
you to both detect it and to cope with it. Understanding alone
can sometimes ease or eliminate pain. But be aware there are
thousands of ways to bring you down, so we won't spend a lot
of time trying to get you to understand about different "personality
types". We're not going to give labels like, "gruff,"
"whiner," "sad sack," etc., because the best
way to deal with people who bring you down is to concentrate
on the way you handle yourself, not them. That's not to
say it's your fault. It is a simple matter of pragmatism. But
we'll get into that a little later.
Right here we will give you some clues
about how they do it, so you can recognize it when it's happening
to you. One of the things they do is talk to you about negative
things. They might tell you about some bad news they heard or
read or saw on TV. Or they'll tell you about something bad that
happened to someone else. They are likely to talk to you in a
certain way about things. They tend to use what is known as a
"pessimistic explanatory style".
Here's a breakdown of how a pessimist thinks:
1. Good things don't last. Good things
are only temporary. This way of explaining things (as well as
the other two below) tends to put the pessimist himself in a
bad mood, and when he shares this pessimistic point of view with
you, it tends to bring you down too.
2. Good things are small and unimportant
and don't influence much of your life.
3. If a good thing happens to you, it is
a fluke you had nothing to do with it. You don't
deserve much credit for it. The economy changed in your favor,
or it was mostly luck, etc.
That's what a pessimist does with good
news or when good things happen. Here's what they say
and think when bad things happen:
1. It's going to last. It is a permanent
change. A bad thing happens and they say, "It's going to
be that way forever. It has always been bad, it will always
be bad; people are never going to change, etc."
2. The negative event has far reaching
consequences. It will "ruin everything." Bad stuff
is perceived to be even worse than it is. Exaggeration is the
name of the game. Blowing it out of proportion.
3. If a bad thing happens to you, it's
your fault. And they'll make you feel responsible for it.
This breakdown of pessimistic ways of thinking
and talking is from the excellent research by Martin Seligman,
author of Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and
Your Life. After 25 years of ground breaking research, Seligman
and his colleagues created the most effective form of psychotherapy
known today not in the opinion of the therapists themselves,
but as shown by controlled experimental studies. It is called
cognitive therapy. In his research, Seligman and his colleagues
discovered that people learn to be optimistic or pessimistic,
and that it can also be unlearned. And further, that optimistic
people are happier, have better health and make more money than
The people in your life who bring you down
are probably pessimistic, and their ways of thinking come out
when they talk to you, which can effect the way you think
about events, making you more pessimistic (at least temporarily)
because everyone is susceptible to suggestion to some degree.
And that's not all they do.
THE SOURCE OF HAPPINESS
Out there in the future somewhere is a
goal of yours. You are always headed somewhere. That's human
nature (for mentally healthy people), and I'm sure it's true
of you. There's something you want, some condition you are aiming
for or trying to move towards in your life. You have a goal,
maybe many of them. You would like to be in better shape, you
would like more money or a more secure future, you'd like to
have a better relationship with your mate, or maybe there is
something you'd like to create, some deed you'd like to do for
no other reason than it feels right.
Regardless of what you're aiming for, the
point is that we're never really satisfied with where we are
(for very long at least), and we're always trying to get to someplace
better, and that's a wonderful part of life. Lucky stuff happens
now and then, of course, and it can make you happy, but you can't
count on it. The only happiness you can count on is the kind
you create with your own effort. This kind of happiness comes
from the process of progress.
We think we'll be happy when our goal is
attained, but that's not so. A great example of that is Christmas.
Christmas night, when it's all over, people often have a feeling
of sadness. You got all those presents, but you're sad because
having what you want doesn't really make you happy. Getting
it is where all the fun is. And no matter how many times we hear
that and agree with it, it almost always feels like we'll be
happier when we arrive. But that's part of the game. Human
The happiness that you can create comes
from the process of progress. If I want to lose ten pounds
and I get on the scale and see I've lost one pound, I'm not where
I want to be, but I've made progress, and I'll feel pretty good
about that. I'm moving in the direction I want to go. If need
to save $3000 to achieve my goal of vacationing in Greece, and
I'm saving a hundred dollars every week, I will feel good about
it each week when I put that hundred bucks away. I'm making progress
toward my goal.
We want to move toward our goals. People
who bring you down do things that make progress more difficult
or more painful. They'll remind you of the barriers in the way
("You're too young"), or they become the barrier
("I forbid you to go"). Or they'll try to hold you
back or put your attention on what holds you back ("What
about the children?").
Another way to slow your progress is to
distract you: "You can do that later; come on, let's go
to the show." Distraction is the hardest to fight. It is
like enticing you with temptations that you yourself enjoy. Like
the person who is trying to lose weight and her spouse cooks
her favorite (fatty) meal. People who bring you down tend to
minimize the importance of your goals, and keep bringing up other
(more immediately fun) things to lure you away from your purpose,
slowing your process of progress. You will experience a short
term enjoyment and a long-term misery. You might not feel any
worse immediately, but it will begin a subtle depression as your
goals lose out to entertainment or socializing. This is distraction.
Another form of distraction is to occupy
your mind with unpleasant thoughts reminding you of your
"obligations," or telling you things that you worry
about or things that make you angry. Fuming and fretting are
not good uses of your mental resources. They slow your progress
and bring you down. When you are worrying or angry, your mind
is not being used to further your goals. And it's bad for your
health and relationships.
Someone who brings you down might also
tell you you're doing too much or too little, and in this way
mess with your own rhythm and pace, tripping you up. They can
make you feel bad by telling you you're doing more than you ought
to, or make you feel bad by telling you you're not doing enough.
An insidious way of keeping you distracted is for someone you
love to be sick or out of control (drinking, for example) or
in some way making it necessary for you to take care of him,
effectively erasing the time you would otherwise work toward
to Handle People Who Bring You Down,