how to handle people who bring you down, part 2

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(return to Part I)

THE FAMOUS DEMONSTRATION

In our courses, Klassy demonstrates the effect of all this with the audiences' participation. She asks for two volunteers to come up to the front of the room and let her bring them down. Let's go into the course room now and listen to Klassy do the demonstration. The following has been transcribed from one of the courses:

"I need two people. The only requirement is that you're wearing comfortable shoes. You? Good. Thank you. Come on up. And you? Excellent. Now [speaking to the two volunteers] I'd like you to look at the audience and find someone who would be a good match for you in a tug of war — and who is also wearing comfortable shoes.

"Okay [to the audience] these two people [referring to the first two volunteers] are going to represent you in your life. You're going to see what your life looks like. You two volunteers stand here and here and face that wall across the room [the wall to the right of the stage from the audiences' perspective; the volunteers are to the left of center-stage]. That wall will represent a goal of yours. You're going to try to reach it while the two people behind you are going to try to stop you. They are the barriers to your goal.

"Not just yet, but in a little while I'm going to ask you two barriers to come up behind them and put your arms around their waist, and be a drag on them while they try to reach their goal.

[She turns to the audience]: "We all have things that hold us back. If we didn't, we'd just go get what we wanted. So if you don't have what you want, it's because something is acting as a barrier to hold you back.

[Speaking to the two people (the barriers) that the first two volunteers have chosen]: "You two barriers, we're going to do the demonstration twice and I want you to stay consistent. Hold them back equally the first and second time because I want the difference to be a result in them, not because of something you are doing differently, okay? [They nod].

[Speaking to the goal-seekers — the first two volunteers]: "With your permission, I'm now going to bring you down. Then when I say, 'Go for what you want,' I want you to start moving toward your goal, represented by this wall [the wall to the right of center stage].

"But first, I'd like you to think of some bad news you've heard lately...[Klassy gives them time to think of some. When it looks like they've both found something, she continues]:

"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...

"Now I'd like the barriers to come up behind you and put their arms around your waist and interlace their fingers. And I'd like you to look down at their hands and keep looking at their hands, feeling the strength in their arms. Keep your attention on the barriers, and think about all the things that the arms represent: the barriers, your weaknesses, the hopelessness of the task. In your thoughts, I want you to hear what you tell yourself about all your failures and shortcomings and everything that's wrong with you. When you feel down, what do you say to yourself about yourself?

"Remember vividly all the times you have failed..."

"Keep looking down at the hands and be aware of the strength of the barrier holding you back. With all your attention on the power of the barrier, I want you now to come and get your goal.

[At first there is no movement. Then they slowly inch forward, eyes down, looking serious, even sad. She lets them struggle that way for a couple of minutes. Very little progress is made.]

"Okay that's enough. Thank you. Now I'd like you to go back to where you were again. We're going to turn it around. 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...

"I've got a little gold star in my hand [it's a gold Christmas ornament about 4 inches by 4 inches]. I want you to focus your attention on it. Ignore the hands around your waist, and keep your eyes on this star. Let the star represent what you could have. This star is your goal.

"Imagine you achieved this goal...

"would you dress any different?

"Would you go places you now don't go?

"When you achieve this, what great things will you be saying to yourself?

"Think about the good things other people will say when you have this goal...

"What will it feel like to know you have attained this goal?

"What will it feel like to know you had what it took to achieve it?

"Barriers, please put your arms around them again.

"Now, you two: Keep your eyes on the goal. 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.

"Keep your thoughts on this goal now. Stay aware of your feelings about this goal, and how you'll feel when you reach it. Now come get it! [Without hesitation, they both suddenly pull forward, smiling and laughing. The barriers are no match. The barriers unsuccessfully try to hold them back, but their effort is futile. In about three seconds, everyone is at the goal. One of the people reaches up and touches the gold star with a big smile on his face. Everyone laughs.]

"Thank you. I'd like to ask the barriers a question: Did you notice anything different between the first time and the second time? [They both nod yes.] Okay, what was the difference? [One of them says, "He had more energy the second time." Klassy goes to the chalkboard and writes "energy".]

"Anything else you noticed? [One of them says, "She did it easier."] Klassy writes "easier" underneath "energy" on the board.]

"Anything else? [One says, "They were faster the second time." Klassy adds "faster" to the list.] I don't know if you in the audience could see their faces, but there were more smiles the second time. We'll assume smiles have to do with fun. [She adds "fun" to the list.] Okay, thanks to both of you. You two barriers can sit down.

[Klassy turns to the audience.] Now I'd like to ask you: What did you notice was different between the first time and the second time? [Somebody calls out, "More confidence the second time." Klassy adds "confidence" to the list. People say more things, and she adds them to the list: determination, strength, focus.]

[She turns to the two main participants in the demonstration — the goal seekers]: "Now I'd like to ask you, 'What was the difference for you?' [One of them says, "It reminded me of learning how to drive. When I first started I focused my eyes on the front edge of the car, and I wasn't very effective. My Dad said over and over to look out ahead, and when I did, my driving got a lot better and I could relax." The other one says, "I felt stronger and more determined."]

"Thank you. That's a good one. Anything else you want to add? Okay, thank you for helping. You can sit down now.

"What I want you all to know is these things [she points to the list on the chalkboard] that happen when someone brings you up are exactly the opposite when someone brings you down. When they bring you down, they make you weaker. When you come down, it saps your energy. When they bring you down, it becomes harder for you to accomplish things, and it will take you longer to accomplish them. The task of achieving your goal won't be as much fun, you're going to lose some of you confidence, you'll have less determination, you'll become confused and unfocused, and you won't feel very good about yourself or others. That's what happens to you when someone brings you down. It's a dangerous thing. It doesn't just feel bad. It has real consequences in your life, in your ability to accomplish your goals in life.

"There are other things you can't see in a demonstration like this, but they can be tested in an experimental setting. For instance, when someone brings you down, it weakens your immune defenses. One way to test your immune system is by checking your saliva for a substance called "immunoglobulin A" — part of the immune defense system. It's an anti-bacterial substance, and it's one of the first lines of defense against airborne diseases. When someone brings you down, it measurably lowers the amount of immunoglobulin A in your saliva — a concrete demonstration of a weakened immune system.

"When you come up, when your mood improves, just the opposite happens: Your immune system gets boosted. Other experiments show that injuries heal faster when you're in a better mood.

"If someone is bringing you down in your life, you're more likely to get sick. If you get sick, it'll last longer and be more intense. If you get an injury — pull a back muscle or sprain an ankle — it'll take you longer to recuperate. These are things we couldn't demonstrate here, but they can be and have been measured by researchers. The point is, if you only look at what they do to your body, you can see it is somewhat dangerous for you to have someone in your life who brings you down.

 

BAD MOODS ARE BAD FOR YOUR BODY

A bad mood effects your body. Anger, frustration, worry and depression all impair your body's ability to heal itself. They weaken your immune system. The scientific evidence for this is overwhelming. As Dr. Howard Friedman (professor of psychology at the University of California, Irvine) put it, "Depressed, anxious, angry or hostile people are twice as likely to suffer from heart disease, asthma, arthritis and headaches as are happier, more relaxed individuals."

Researchers have been finding that what makes people "catch a cold" is not what we thought. When they measure the amount of virus in the blood stream, it seems to have nothing to do with whether the person gets sick or not. Some people with lots of virus in their system did not get sick, and some with very little did get sick. One factor that was related to getting sick was stress. If the person experienced negative emotions, it was a good predictor of upcoming illness. The more negative feelings a person had during a given week, the more likely they were to "catch" a cold.

Apparently bad moods weaken your immune system enough to make your body a nice place for a virus to raise a family.

But your body is not the only thing impaired. When I bring you down, I make you less able to access your intelligence. Have you ever noticed when you're upset or in a bad mood or depressed that you feel confused and can't sort your thoughts very well? When someone brings you down, she literally makes you less able to use your intelligence. When you're upset, it's like looking at your life through a carnival mirror. In other words, you can look at your life, and you know it's your life you're looking at because when you move your arm, the reflection moves its arm, but your head looks enormous, your body is elongated, your feet are gigantic. It's your life, but it's distorted.

Just like a carnival mirror, bad feelings distort your perception. Big things seem small and small things seem big. For example, sometimes when people bring you down, they make you angry. When you're angry, you treat little things like big things. It is commonly known as 'blowing things out of proportion.' Sometimes you can argue for quite awhile and the next day not even know what it was about because it was so insignificant — but it was a big deal to you at the time.

Your state of mind and emotion changes how you perceive things. You are still perceiving the world — you're not hallucinating or seeing things that aren't there, but the emphasis has changed. You interpret an innocent remark as an attack. You remember all the times what's-his-name let you down, and you forget all the times he did you right.

We distort in the direction of the state. Anger biases you to see more trespass. Sadness biases you to see more loss. Fear biases you to see more danger. Let's go back to the course room for a demonstration of this principle.

"[Klassy says to the audience] Look around the room and call out loud and point to everywhere you see the color red. [People start pointing to other people's clothing, notebooks, pens, jewelry, etc. It keeps going as people notice more and more things with a red color.] Okay. There's quite a bit of red in this room. Now find all the blue in the room. [Again people call out and point to all the things in the room colored blue.] You can see more of what you're looking for, can't you? Well, our state of emotion colors our world, changing our perception so that we look for and find all the aspects of our world that match our state, that match what we're 'looking for.'

"The same thing happens when you buy a new car. You never noticed before how many of them there are on the road! But there are no more on the road after you buy than before (well, there's one more — yours!) It's just that your attention is more drawn to that kind of car now, so you notice more of them. And the same thing happens to your perception, depending on what mood you're in. If a person is worried, she will notice much more danger than someone who is not worried. She'll see more knives and fast moving cars and poisonous things. She'll remember news about danger with much more clarity than other pieces of news. The state she's in focuses attention in a certain way, and it distorts her world by causing her to miss a lot of non-dangerous things and to emphasis and pay closer attention to even the smallest chance of danger. Just like when you were all looking around the room for the color red. At first you noticed the big things, the obvious things, and it didn't seem there was very much red. But as you looked, you saw more and more. You noticed smaller and smaller things that were red. Some of you even pointed out red pieces of lint in the carpet! Your emotional state does the same thing.

"Fear and worry are bad feelings, and they influence our perception. Fear tends to focus the mind so much on the threat that we overlook some good options. It's like the man who fell to his death because he had a left-handed parachute on. Did you ever hear about that tragic accident?

"The man's parachute worked fine, but when he couldn't find the pull-cord where it normally was (on the right side), he panicked and frantically focused on pulling that cord, ripping to shreds the right side of his jacket and even his own skin trying to pull the cord.

"Had he been sitting on the ground, no doubt he would have quickly realized the pull cord was on the left side. Instead, he was in the air, and his fear focused his mind so completely that perfectly good options became unavailable to him.

"Apathy distorts your perception in a different way. Important things seem unimportant. So you have something big and important and you know you ought to be getting to it, but you just don't care. You don't do things you know you should do.

"Bottom line: When someone brings you down, it distorts your perception of life and impairs your ability to get an accurate view of the world, and further, it impairs the access you have to your own intelligence.

"In a bad mood, you're looking at your life through a carnival mirror. Yes, it's your life you're looking at, but it's so distorted, when you try to make decisions or come up with solutions, they don't work very well because you aren't seeing things truly. It would be like wearing glasses with the wrong prescription. You would be seeing the real world, but it would be distorted. You'd have a tendency to misjudge distances and run into things.

"If you look at the world through a bad mood, any solution you create will likely be inappropriate for your life. And a bad solution tends to cause more stress. First, the stress causes the distortion. Then the distortion causes more stress. It's a counter-productive cycle: Stress leads to more stress.

"Bad moods also effect your ability to think. You aren't as intelligent when you're in a bad mood, and you're prone to do irrational, counter-productive things.

Stress may even do damage to your brain. Recent research by Robert Sapolsky (a neuroscientist at Stanford) exposed rats to prolonged stress or injected them with the same hormones their bodies produce in response to a threat. In both cases, the rats lost brain cells in a vital region of the brain (the hippocampus). Dr. Sapolsky points out that although humans haven't undergone the same kind of direct experimentation, there is indirect evidence that humans also lose brain cells in the same way rats do when they experience prolonged stress.

"Bad moods also damage your character. You don't act as well when you're down as when you're up. When you're down, you've brought your worst into the world. I'd be willing to bet most of the things you wish you hadn't done, you did when you were down.

"Researchers Eliot Aronson and David Mettee wanted to see what influence (if any) put-downs have on a person's level of honesty. They took a group of students and gave them a personality tests. Unbeknownst to the students, the researchers didn't even look at the test results. Then they told the students they had checked all the tests and now they were ready to reveal the findings. They split the students at random into three groups. The students thought the split was based on the test. One group was told. 'The test showed you to be very mature, interesting, deep, etc.' These people felt good about this.

"The next group the told, 'The test showed you're shallow, immature, etc.' These people got shot down.

"The third group was told nothing about the test results. Then they were all told the experiment was over, and thank you very much. Now they were going to do another experiment. The two experiments were related, as you'll find out, but the students didn't know it.

"The students had to learn a card game. But the game was rigged so they would lose unless they cheated and if they cheated, they could actually win a lot of money.

"The people who got shot down in the earlier experiment cheated more readily than the other two groups.

"What does this tell you? When you get brought down, it is easier to do unethical things. You don't have as much courage to tell the truth. When you're down, you behave in ways you're not as proud of. You aren't as likely to keep your commitments or accomplish what you wanted to accomplish. You are more likely to participate in malicious gossip. You're more likely to be mean to people. 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.

"People who bring you down weaken your character and impair your self-discipline.

"They also harm your relationships. You come down and bring your worst side into your relationships. Someone at work brings you down and you come home and snap at your spouse. Do you like being around someone who is down? No. People have a tendency to pull away from someone in a bad mood. Relationships are about being close together. When you're down and in a bad mood, people don't want to be around you, so you have a tendency to weaken your relationships. Plus again, you probably don't do anything bad to your relationship when you're in a good mood. Probably most of the damage you've done to the people you love and care about was when you were in a bad mood. You weren't feeling good and you said something mean to them. Or you acted less ethically than normal. Or you were more selfish. You hurt the people you love most when you're in a bad mood.

"When someone brings you down, you're not as healthy, you're not as capable of thinking straight, your character isn't as strong, and you damage your relationships.

"That's the bad news."

Bad moods also influence your level of energy. You've noticed this, haven't you? When you're in a bad mood or really stressed out, there are times when everything seems just too much effort.

So the stress drains us and we don't get as much done. And when we don't get as much done, we're not as capable of meeting our challenges. Once again we have a snowball effect: When we feel bad and we don't have enough energy and our bodies are down, we can't get as much done and we're sick more often, and that, in turn, causes more stress in our life.

 

YOUR CHARACTER

Let's be very clear about this. Researchers have discovered a link between bad feelings and ethical behavior. Your mood influences your character. When we're in a bad mood, we're more likely to:

1. lie
2. avoid facing problems squarely
3. be sneaky

In the experiment above, notice the results: People who felt good about themselves (the ones given the compliments earlier) were reluctant to cheat, even with the temptation of lots of money.

But people who had been made to feel bad about themselves — people who were in a bad mood — cheated easily and often.

So when you're in a bad mood, you've really threatened your own integrity. You've brought your worst into the world. You will do things you'll regret. We've all been angry (which is one kind of bad mood) and said something we wished we hadn't said. Out of our anger, we've hurt people intentionally (something that doesn't make us feel good about ourselves). And we've all been afraid of something (another kind of bad mood), and because of the fear, we avoided doing something we wanted to do — something that would have made us proud of ourselves.

Here again, you can see the downward spiral: You're in a bad mood and you do things you're ashamed of, which adds more stress (negative emotion) to your life.

 

THE COMMUNITY AT LARGE

Being in a bad mood is also harmful to every one of your friends and family — and the community at large. When you're in a bad mood, you're not as pleasant to be around. And you're more likely to say snippy little nasty things to people and bring them down. You're not available to people when you're stressed out, so you really don't have it in you to help anyone. In a bad mood, you probably wouldn't even notice people around you needed help.

Our families suffer. We snap at them; we can sometimes be mean to them. These things not only make us feel bad later, but we make them feel bad.

It is likely to have an effect on not only your family and friends, but strangers. If you've ever been in a bad enough mood, you are more likely to cut someone off on the freeway, or glare at a grocery clerk who made a small mistake. It's bad for the community at large.

Okay, no more guilt. Bad moods are bad.

It's important to have a healthy respect for what a bad mood does. That's the first place to start. When we know what stress does to us, the motivation to do something about it becomes stronger.

When we battle stress by trying to get rid of stress, it creates a negative, self-perpetuating cycle. Battling stress creates more stress. Battling stress is a stressful thing to do. Have you ever seen one of those Chinese finger-pulls? The harder you try to get out of it, the more tightly it grips your finger. Well, that's kind of what stress is like. The harder you try to fight stress and not be upset, the more stressed-out you are.

Stress weakens you and makes you unhappy and less productive.

Luckily, being in a good mood is a total antidote for all of that. Good moods are nearly magical in the power they have for you.

 

WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?

How do you handle someone who brings you down? The answer is: You can't. You heard right: You can't. You've been had. You've read this article to find out how to handle them, and here I am telling you "you can't."

Let us draw an analogy to show you why this is so. It is as if the people who bring you down live in the low parts of life. They live in the swamps. They live where there's a lot of depression and worry and hostility. Have some pity — they live there. We have trouble dealing with them, but it would be even worse to be them. They are like someone from a swamp who is slimy and smells bad and has spores of slime-mold they leave behind (seeds of doubt and worry in your mind). And you're asking, "How can I relate to this person without getting slimy?" It's not going to happen! You will get slimy and stinky every time you interact.

If I talk to you about your barriers and about everything bad in the world, and I imply everything bad is going to last and nothing good will, and I feel bad about myself (moods are contagious), you can't listen to that for too long without coming down. A person can make a good case for anything with the manipulation of the facts, some exaggeration, selective deletion and lots of personal conviction. You might not want to be persuaded or influenced, but you are human.

The question, "How can I deal with someone who brings me down without coming down?" is like asking, "How do I wrestle with someone who is covered with mud without getting myself muddy?" It is impossible (or at least very difficult)!

 

STAY OUT OF IT

So is there anything that can be done? Yes. The first thing is going to seem very simple and you might accuse me of being flippant, but I'm not. Not at all. One of the most practical things you can do with someone who brings you down — and it's the very first thing to do — is be vague. There's a lot of power in that. If you say specifically what you're going to do and where you're going to go, it's pretty easy to put a damper on it. If you say, "I think I'm going to go to Hawaii in February," they can say, "Oh, there's been an outbreak of a deadly disease in Hawaii, and it's the worst time to go because it's so crowded, and besides, you've got responsibilities." That's an overt example. People who bring you down use techniques that are often too subtle and tricky to describe, so let us say this: 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. It will get twisted and embellished and come back to you in a monstrous form. You say you had a little cold. Later you hear that person telling someone else you didn't take care of yourself very well and were out with the flu.

If someone knows specifically what you're up to, it is very easy for them to zing it. So stay vague and put a kind of cloak of generalities over you. Remember the old Dial commercials where they had the "dome of protection?" Being vague is like a dome of protection. When they want to know what's going on with you, just be vague. Be warm, be gentle, be kind, be compassionate with them — I'm not talking about being rude or hurting their feelings, but it will be easier on them and easier on you if you're vague. When they ask how your work is going, say "pretty good." When they ask what you did over the weekend, say, "Not much."

When there's someone in your life who brings you down, it is a natural, normal, healthy response to want to fight it. But think about it: If you try to fight it, what if you win? Was it a pleasant way to spend your time? And you're probably not going to win anyway. 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).

Being vague is simply a gracious way to avoid the conflict. In the martial art called Aikido, it is basically about being so good at defense or deflecting the attack, that you don't have to fight. Most martial arts, like karate for example, is a contest to see who is going to be the most powerful, the most intense, the fastest, etc. If you try to fight that way with someone who brings you down, they are probably going to win. Some things in life you can't win at and keep your ethics. If I'm an aggressive person and you're a polite person, and there is a piece of candy on the table between us, who is going to get the candy? I am. So if the polite person wants to get the goodies, she is going to have to come to my level of aggressiveness to get it or she won't get it. The same principle applies to people who bring you down. You want to stay in a good mood and you would like other people to stay in a good mood. What if a person you're dealing with doesn't care if you're in a good mood? What if they want you to share their unhappiness with them?

Sometimes evil is more powerful than goodness, and we're lucky evil is so outnumbered. It may take 20 people an entire year to build an apartment complex, and one person with a lighter 30 minutes to destroy it. You may exercise, eat right, try to maintain a good attitude, work on your relationships so they are supportive and nurturing, and do everything in your power to be happy, and it then someone comes and brings you down in ten seconds.

One way to protect yourself is to first find out who in your life brings you down consistently and then make a rule for yourself to always be vague when talking with them.

It seems like someone would notice you being vague, doesn't it? And if that's all you did, someone probably would notice. But if you then ask a question, it is a sort of distraction, and it is all perfectly polite. "My work is going fairly well. How's your new job going? How's your new boss?" Of course, someone who brings you down can still bring you down when they talk about their life just by hearing their interpretation of the way life works. So you might want to simply be vague and evasive with them and not ask them about themselves. It depends on who you are dealing with.

People will talk forever about what they want, or what's in the way of what they want. So one very gracious way of handling someone who brings you down is be very vague about your life and try to focus the conversation on their life. Then when you walk away from them, you can often shed whatever happened with them easier because it was about their life. They haven't left as many barbs in your life, because the truth is, although you can be brought down during the conversation, they can also say things that bother you later. A really good way to avoid this is don't let them know anything about your life. It's a lot easier to drop their life out of your mind (unless it is a close family member — and we'll get to that later).

How can you handle people who bring you down? The first principle is BE VAGUE.

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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