We live in an age of addictions. I grew up hearing about drug addicts, and had a brother-in-law who died from an overdose. Other people are addicted to food, and others to alcohol. The reason for some addictions is physical, as in the case of drugs or cigarettes. Other addictions are psychological, as people seek to escape the more painful aspects of their lives. I have noticed over many years, that some people are addicted to negativity.
Like most addictions, people who are addicted to negativity mask it with the notion that they are doing something noble, or filled with righteous indignation. Indeed, there are people who are noble, and are filled with righteous indignation who seek to challenge the status quo and change society for good, like the people who fought for civil rights for various groups.
People who are addicted to negativity are not just filled with righteous indignation, they are truly addicted. The symptoms of addiction can be seen in their response to what is going on in their lives: they are always angry about something, and rarely happy. When you solve one problem, they find another issue to be upset about. They are never satisfied or happy. Because they have taken up some cause, it makes them seem noble, and they can hide behind “the cause,” so they don’t appear to be negative.
I have a friend who was always angry about something; either the way things were being handled by those in charge, or how someone was treating someone else, or the low standards of an organization, or the lack of respect they received from others. I was always trying to appease him, trying to point out the positive aspects of the situation, but it was never good enough. On several occasions, this person turned on me, and made me seem to be part of the problem. What I came to realize, was that this person was addicted. He was like a magnet for negative, angry, disgruntled people. I watched the effect their negative words and attitudes had on him. It fed him like a drug. He got more angry as he pursued his crusade of righteousness, and it only made him more bitter.
Being around such a person was emotionally draining on me, and I soon felt like I was being abused. While I didn’t take up his crusade, I hung in with him for the sake of friendship. I was getting depressed, and putting up with his moods made me feel manipulated, so I started to distance myself from him. It wasn’t that difficult to do. I just waited for him to get upset, and let him go. As I look back on that experience, I enabled his bad behavior. He had a number of emotional issues, and even though I created a safe place for him to vent his emotions, it took its toll on me. I did heal, and moved on, but I won’t put myself in that position again.
He isn’t the only person in which I have noticed this behavior. I have another friend who has had a pattern of negativity over the past 35 years, where whatever he has done, has failed. He can’t understand why people go elsewhere, but he’s so negative, he tends to draw negative people to himself and scares off normal people. He never even considers the problem is himself, and I can’t even suggest it to him, because he knows better than me.
I know others as well who fit the profile. What I have observed, is that people with a negativity addiction can be great friends, and people whose friendships I treasure, but when I observe the effect of other people’s negativity on them, it makes me cringe. It’s like a drug to them, and it fuels anger and bitterness. It’s natural for people to become angry when they hear of injustice or wrongdoing, but for most people, it’s not an everyday occurrence. People who live with these addicted souls either learn to live with it, or ignore it.
The question that presents itself is how do you deal with a negativity addict? First, recognize that they do have a very real problem. You can’t help, if you don’t recognize what you are dealing with.
Secondly, I believe you deal with them as you would deal with any addict; you don’t give an alcoholic a drink, or a drug addict drugs, so you don’t feed negative words to a negativity addict. I try to be positive around them, and don’t discuss problems with them; not because they can’t be trusted, but out of a desire to help them and not feed their addiction.
Thirdly, set up limits for yourself. Don’t let yourself be abused or drained of your emotional strength. Be there for them, but don’t let them rob you of your own enjoyment of life. Life is hard enough without letting others sap you of all your emotional energy. Bear one another’s burdens, but that doesn’t mean taking up every cause. Speak the truth in love, and be willing to be rebuffed if they don’t accept what you say, but don’t be afraid to let go for the sake of your own peace of mind.
In the end, if you let them drag you down, you can’t be of help to anyone else.