We all have negative people in our lives. But did you know that negativity can be contagious and harm your health? It can cause stress, anxiety, heart disease, and it can even rewire your brain.
Why negative social connections are bad for you
Friendships, relationships or family ties with people who are negative will bring you down. Here’s why:
You adopt their thinking style. People are natural mimics. From the time we are babies, we subconsciously repeat movements and gestures of those around us. There have been studies that show we trust people who mimic and mirror us more than those who don’t. We also feel closer to them and like them more.
Studies have also found that spending a lot of time with someone who constantly ruminates or exhibits other signs of depression can be contagious. That’s right! You can start ruminating and exhibiting the same signs of depression, even if you have never experienced them before.
For these reasons, negative social connections are especially damaging for people who put a high value on friendships and prioritize how others perceive them.
Interacting with them causes anxiety. When you start anticipating what could happen when you interact with a negative person, it can easily spiral into anxious thoughts and hike up your blood pressure. Have you ever spent an entire day freaking out about a meeting or a phone call? It can make you feel physically sick.
They make you feel bad about about yourself. Sometimes it’s easy to pin down why you don’t feel great after hanging out with someone. It’s actually helpful when they are an obvious jerk. But sometimes negativity is quiet or low-key. It can manifest itself as dismissing your thoughts or feelings, keeping the focus on themselves, making fun of your decisions, lying, back-handed comments and even gaslighting.
Spending time with them is exhausting. When your friendship or relationship feels like hard work all the time, there is a problem. Negative people can suck all of your energy if you let them. You might be putting a ton of precious time into keeping them happy, helping them with errands or tasks, making them feel better about themselves, or listening to them complain. That’s time you are taking away from your other relationships and your own self care.
Limit your interactions with negative people
Negative people are toxic and won’t help your journey to happiness.
Make sure you are creating boundaries and, more importantly, make sure you keep reinforcing them. When you let someone cross your boundaries, you are teaching them that it’s ok to treat you that way.
If you do not have solid boundaries yet, put some serious time into figuring out how you want to be treated. What kind of behavior is unacceptable? What would cause you to walk away from a friendship?
Cut them out completely whenever possible
If you are not getting anything positive from a connection, it is time to remove it. You don’t owe anyone an explanation about it, either.
People grow out of friendships and relationships all the time. There’s nothing that says you HAVE to remain friends with someone because you have a shared history.
It’s also important to remember that just because someone is related to you, doesn’t mean you have to have a relationship with them. That is entirely your choice. Choose your own version of family.
You need to surround yourself with people who are optimistic, positive, productive, and happy.
Cutting out negative people may be harder than you think.
Sometimes negative people are co-workers, best friends or family members you see every day. That means you may not be able to just remove them from your life. So what can you do? Here are some ideas that can help minimize their impact.
How to deal with negativity you can’t walk away from
Have a conversation
- Tell them you are focusing on happiness and do not want negativity in your life.
- Use “I feel” or “I have” statements. “I feel upset when you criticize my personal choices.”
- Be kind. They may be hurting or not know they are being negative or toxic. Remember, they have feelings, too.
When I was deep in severe depression, I had no idea how my attitude affected others. It didn’t feel great, but I was thankful when someone brought it up.
Unfollow toxic people
- Make sure your social feeds are filled with positivity, things that make you smile, and people you admire.
- Don’t forget that you are the one who controls what you see. Nobody else can make those decisions for you.
- This is especially important when you have family or other ties who post content that is aggressive, humor filled with bigotry, memes that belittle your identity or content that is simply not based on facts.
During election season, I know I have to unfollow and unfriend a ton of people who post ridiculous conspiracy theories or think racism is funny. Not only is that stuff abhorrent but it also instantly makes me angry. Fortunately the block button makes for an easy fix.
Spend less time together
- Don’t reply immediately.
- Change your routine so you don’t run into them as much.
- Plan lunch or breaks with other people.
- Stop inviting them to parties or events.
- Try to make new friends or focus on a hobby. It is important to have more than one strong social connection, so you do not feel like you’re making a choice between negativity or loneliness.
It’s always ok to tell tell someone you are working on self care and need space, no matter who it is.
- TEDtalk about how good relationships keep you healthy and happy.
- A study about mimicry and empathy
- Research on the importance of high quality social connections
Need some inspiration? Check out the happiness activities in the Be Happy, B*tch workbook.