How to Distance Yourself from Other People’s Negative EmotionsBy Homaira Kabir
Have you ever been at the receiving end of other people's negative emotions? You might have a partner who gets needlessly critical at home because they've had a bad day at work. Or a friend or colleague who keeps passing snide comments without fully expressing what's bothering them. Or a child who sulks and spreads misery all day with a curt "I don’t want to talk about it" when you try to help them.
Misery—like joy—is contagious. And while most emotions have a relatively short lifecycle—which generally makes it easier to manage other people's moods—some people insist on holding onto their negativity until the whole world knows about it. It’s not that they enjoy spreading misery; it’s often because they feel overwhelmed by their emotional surge and have no other way of dealing with it. Seeing another person suffer alongside them makes their own load lighter, and takes some of the responsibility off of them to do something about it.
No wonder, then, that such people are often at their most negative around sensitive people. With mile-high emotional receptivity antennae myself, I know how exhausting it can be to be around them. I also know that it's extremely frustrating because you feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. You stay with them and you get swept away by their emotional onslaught. You distance yourself and they become more persistent, a push-and-pull cycle that eventually leads to negative outcomes.
If you relate, here's a 3-step strategy that I've found to be very helpful. Feel free to adapt it to the situation you're in, because the way you deal with difficult people at home will be different from how you do it at work. Either way, the 3 steps are still the same.
1. Protect Your Core
Sensitive or not, we can eventually become enveloped by other people’s negativity the longer we stay steeped in it. What we need in that moment is our understanding and compassion; otherwise we activate our own fear-based response of blame, anger, or sometimes shame. Self-compassion, either as a regular guided meditation practice or simply with kind words in the moment, can bring us back to center. Try saying something like, "This is difficult, and I’m here for you." Or protect yoursel