how to handle people who bring you down

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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 people down.

"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 others down.

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 are.

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 her.

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 a word!

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 to solve?

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 pessimistic people.

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 nature.

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 your goal.

How to Handle People Who Bring You Down, continued...

Author: Klassy Evans
editor of the books, Principles For Personal Growth and Self-Help Stuff That Works
and editor of the blogs, CrushPessimism.com, and MoodRaiser.com
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