Beverley Merriman

How much negativity can you stomach?

I fear negativity.

Liars, cheaters, interlopers, know-it-alls and so-called victims can all be classified as negative people. At least they are easy to spot. I’m more afraid of those in disguise — the white-collar mopers. On the surface they appear normal, even pleasant, but in reality they are a toxic, poison-spitting species that lurks on the darker side of human nature.

Dealing with a negative individual is like having a one-way conversation — nothing you say can inject positivity into their dreary existence. It drains you of all your much-needed energy, as you constantly have to monitor your own mind to counterbalance their defeatist emotion. Exhausting.

I have empathy for individuals who screw themselves over on the success front. Let’s face it, they cause themselves to be less productive, unhappy individuals who place enormous amounts of strain on both their personal and professional relationships. Despite the empathy, I’ve always avoided them like the plague.

But then it happened … I found myself surrounded by disagreeable downbeats. I put up a brave fight, but the consistency of the pessimistic blows and the constant slow-releasing poison almost got the better of me when slowly but surely the negativity started chipping away at my soul. I admit I’m surprised how relentless and “successful” these negative people are at spreading the virus.

I’ve always been an attitude chick. My brand says, “Because attitude matters” and by that I mean a positive attitude. I’ve always considered it a choice. As human beings we choose how we absorb, think about and handle negative experiences and disappointments in life.

As humans we rise and fall according to the company we keep. Each person has a different level of tolerance to negativity. The more positive you are, the stronger you’ll be. The thing is, long-term exposure to negativity causes one’s strength to wane. You can end up suffering from burnout by just dealing with negative people and their experiences. So it’s true — negativity breeds negativity.

Positive people know how to be positive and handle disappointment. For a start, they avoid negative situations as far as possible! They stick to things that are enriching, embrace the concepts of hope, faith, gratitude and humility and are able to detect opportunity in almost every loss. I’ve always found that expecting the best magically attracts the best. This is not a superficial belief — it’s something that is part of the very core of your being. In addition, positive people practise positivity frequently by reading, listening to, mingling with and actively seeking out positive content, individuals and experiences.

There’s plenty of advice on how to manage negative people. Don’t take on their problems, don’t get drawn into an argument, don’t give them personal advice, don’t insult them and show no fear. (All of that whilst you have empathy, listen, paraphrase their rant, shower them with supportive questions and facilitate a change of perception of their experience by highlighting the positive options or opportunities. All in a day’s work, superman!)

There’s always that giant red button — the button that magically ejects you from their realm or teleports you to a different cognitive environment. The button says: cutting you out of my life. I guess it’s truly dependent on the relation between the amount of effort you are willing to invest and their level of awesomeness in whichever field. But what happens the day effort outweighs their awesomeness? Is there only one red button for every depressed pessimist?

  • Motho-wa-Batho

    One amazing thing about negative people is their ability to see everything negative about every posible solution to a problem.

    Example: they would phone you to say they needed money.

    You then tell them to come and fetch it – but its too far!
    Ok I will make an eft – it will only reflect to the next day.
    Take a taxi – no, its too dangerous.

    In actual fact most of them are very selfish!!

  • Benzol

    After a negative sermon, my question is mostly: “what are you going to do about it?” And if the answer is “I can’t” then your answer is: “then live with it”. It stops the others form trying you out any further.

  • frosty

    My wife of 8 years is the most negative, energy sapping person i have to live with. It at a point in my life where, were it not for my 2 kids i wouldve just walked out the door. I just cant bear to be around her with the terrible moaning and whinging which i got used to for a long time but i guess im now just burnt out. Wish there was a happy pill i could give her

  • haiwa tigere

    Hey merriman are you talking about the whingers AKA bloggers on this website.An example will suffice. Official statistics say crime has reduced to 2.1 million events a year.One blogger spent a whole blog stating it cant be right it must be more. No proof offered none. Just a thumbsuck it must be more.
    Hey wait if the statistics had said it(crime) had increased she would have been very satisfied.This is negativity at its worst.A scaremonger simply because she can.
    She is not alone though a lot of bloggers here want to see south africa as negative.I have interacted with a lot of(former) south africans in the diaspora.Its all negative there as well. Maybe if they bring back the national party will they change their attitude

  • Wondering

    Frosty, she may very well need an anti-depressant, so encourage her gently to go to the doctor.
    Living with a negative person will suck all the joy out of your life and will impact negatively on your children and their future. Please don’t let that happen.
    I speak from experience.

  • ngwenya

    You don’t have empathy, you have sympathy. I doubt that you genuinely feel what it’s like to be in their shoes, empathy it ain’t.
    Have you – or any of the commentators here – asked yourself WHY people are negative? Why is your wife the way she is, frosty? Have you asked her? And if that didn’t work, have you suggested counselling for both of you? People are not born negative, something made them that way. And sometimes people are negative for a period due to circumstances – someone close to me was deeply negative and grouchy for years because, as we later found out, he’d been prescribed anti-depressants inappropriately! If you try to understand, really understand, you’re empathetic – but Beverley doesn’t seem to be doing that. She deals with negativity as though it were a personal genetic trait, like brown eyes.
    BTW, Beverley, do get hold of a book by excellent journalist and one-time scientist Barbara Ehrenreich called Smile or Die. It’s enlightening.

  • Alexis

    A phrase which particularly annoys me is “Good luck with that”.

  • Brian

    Thanx for a well written and enlightning article,just suffered loss,im still buffled,trying to understand the reasons of it,cant seem to and i guess i’ll never find out for certain,but what i take is that “there’s positivity and opportunity in every loss” there’s no use in hanging around negative people who cant see anything but doom in everything…so thanx!!!!!

  • Ekhaya

    Great piece Bev
    What do you have to say to the point made by those that believe that we need these negative energy-sucking vampires for us to keep a solid perspective on whats good around us and on our positivity?
    They could be reminding us of how terrible life could really be just by presenting or projecting the worst-case scenarios that they live in? There’s a positive, right there.

    Tip: …when around negative people, it helps to detach yourself from the negative virus by telling yourself that what they spew out is their own story, and you dont have to buy into it or own it or relate to it in any particular way. You have your own story, and that is what you focus on, and keep working on yours, and watch that it is not infected, and that you and your story are in the service of yours and others’ greater good, which negativity erodes and feeds on for its selfish ends.
    How clean is your story? If it is squeeky clean, you’re in trouble, cos there is no such thing as a squeeky clean story, or is there?
    Stay positive now, keep your focus… eyes on the ball!
    But seriously now. Nothing beats the physiological or chemical-body benefits of being positive. For years now, studies have shown that you live longer when you’re less negative and more positive about everything.

  • Beverley Merriman

    @Motho-wa-Bathothat That is an excellent point.

    Benzol – Great tactic!

    Frosty – Please take Wondering’s advice. Perhaps you should investigate the reason for her negativity? Is she depressed? Is it something physiological? It’s probably worth figuring it out, as there are kids involved. You most certainly don’t want your children to catch on to negative behaviour. Perhaps you can find some inspiration and delight in your children in the interim?

    Haiwa Tigere – Admittedly, I wasn’t thinking about bloggers. However your comment is sure to make some of them think.

    Ngwenya – Now, now, as you don’t know me, stating that I cannot identify with or understand another’s situation, feelings and motives is a little harsh, don’t you think?

    As you correctly point out, there are plenty of reasons why people are negative (hell some have real reasons to be gloomy), that said, often we find that those faced with the most adversity are indeed the most optimistic.

    Just think what would happen if we all went around justifying every negative person’s behaviour – what kind of a world would we live in?

    At the end of the day it’s about making a (selfless) choice and often a case of mind over matter. I suggest reading Unlimited Power by Anthony Robbins – it’s equally illuminating.

  • Hugh Robinson

    The problem with so-called positive people is that they cannot distinguish between those that are Realists and those that are down right negative.

    In their minds both are classified as Negative’s. They try at all costs to avoid opposite contact so that their insular bubble will not burst.

    The realist of coarse is one whom is aware of the problems and is never surprised. One the other hand shares the pleasure of being wrong.

    The realist is the more stable than the positives as he looks for failure while seeking solutions.

    The so called positives are irritating inasmuch that they are so busy trying to positive that they refuse to see the wood for the trees and latch onto anything even the most mediocre.

    The best example of being positive is the SA teams world cup total failure. People creaming their beans over what, a complete failure of a football team? Finding in solace in mediocrity without a thought to the near billion Rand spent on a failure. Sorry that is not being positive that is the road to failure.

    My advice to those positives. Temper your fervour with a dose of realism. Never choose to ignore the reality in favour of feel good because you will likely end up savouring failure quicker than you think. Worse still you will accept the status quo and never fight for what is right only what you think what suits you best. In short a hateful, self opinionated, self absorbed clod.

  • Trying not to be an energy parasite

    Everything ngwenya said. Part of being a positive person is embracing love. Love is about generosity. If your partner is suffering, don’t just walk (sorry, press the red button) because they’re ruining your buzz!

    Love is not love
    Which alters when it alteration finds,
    Or bends with the remover to remove:
    O no! it is an ever-fixéd mark
    That looks on tempests and is never shaken.

    @ngwenya I’ve read a review of the book and was very interested in it. Is it available in SA? Where?

  • Grant Walliser

    The only thing worse than a totally negative person is a totally positive person. Give me a realistic person any day. Positive people that will not see the cliff they are bravely running off are responsible for a huge number of really large problems we face in the world today. They took us into the global financial crisis by borrowing like there was no tomorrow and lending positively to people who could never pay their loans back. They brought Iceland to its knees, leech money out of sad, unhappy people with seminars and books and promote a cult-like religion that does more harm than good. While I am on the topic, did anyone who writes these stupid books every wonder who would make the sports cars and produce the goods that would just ‘manifest’ if the entire planet became positive thinking zombies of leisure and wealth?

    Blindly positive people, or people who force themselves to be positive when they are not, are facades, they do not feel or react in a way conducive to survival or realistic advancement. They live in a socially imposed dream world, a mini North Korea, where everybody smiles and laughs that little cocktail laugh when they are crying or saying ‘eff you’ on the inside. Fuck positive and negative. Give me real any day. Real does not mean negative; it means knowing when to be positive and when to be negative to maximum effect.

  • MaiMai

    OMG! you have so accurately described one of the people that I work with. OK she’s only one out of 11 but her negativity is so pervasive that she affects the entire workplace. It’s gotten so bad recently that we (co-workers)insisted that management stage an intervention. When she’s not in the office the difference in atmosphere is palpable. No hysterics, no shouting, no blaming whoever is nearest because the photocopier stopped working. I have never in my life met anyone so completely incapable of enjoying life. Her default setting is either panic or hysteria. She micro manages absolutely everything because she is convinced no one else can do it properly – in the process she manages to stuff things up royally most of the time. She is in therapy but spends all her time whinging about how her therapist doesn’t “get” her. We all try our best to stay away from her but that’s not always possible. I am starting a lobby group to introduce a “no-crazy rule” for offices. Any takers?

  • C Moon

    Reading this, I’m brought to my senses that I’m brought down by those, proclaiming to be ‘positive’ are in fact ‘negative’…Thanks Beverley

  • Beverley Merriman

    @Brian – I guess that’s the beauty of writing – having control of how much you give away. It’s like the unfinished movie.

    @Ekhya – That is an excellent point. Very Yin-Yang. We do need the bad to appreciate the good. The world already does a pretty good job at generating the bad, so the last thing we need is to add more negativity to it right?

    @Hugh, @Grant Wilson – As the focus was on extreme negativity (inclusive of wife-beaters, cheaters and interlopers) I didn’t feel guilty for not explaining my take on positivity. There is of course, as you point out, another extreme.

    “Real does not mean negative; it means knowing when to be positive and when to be negative to maximum effect.” That is the best way to look at it.

    Both of you reminded me that I dislike the hyper-positive, goodie two-shoes, devoid-of-reality types just as much as the overly negative. Here’s to realism. “Fuck positive and negative. Give me real any day. ”

    @Trying not to be an energy parasite – there is love and then there is stupidity.

    @Mai Mai – Working on a post on negative working environments, feel free to email me your input.

  • MLH

    I’m with Grant on this. Let’s be realistic but not lose our sense of humour.