Years and years ago when I was preparing to leave the corporate world to make my living as a freelance writer, I hired a life coach. She cautioned me that in a profession like writing where rejection and competition are so common, I would need to be very vigilant about guarding myself against negativity.
I would need to shield myself from the Debbie Downers and the naysayers out there. (“How will you eat?” said my soon-to-be ex-boss when I gave my notice.) I pictured myself surrounded by an invisible force-field of positive vibes, deflecting the slings and arrows of the cruel, cruel world.
Some people have the good fortune of being immune to criticism and other people’s foul moods. They can shrug it off, let it roll off their back. I am not one of them. Remember the Negative Nellie at the gym? Whenever I’m around people like that long enough, their bad vibes inevitably rub off on me. I wish this weren’t the case, but it is.
My natural inclination is to give people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they’re just having a bad day. Maybe they’re wearing uncomfortable underwear. Maybe their parents didn’t hug them enough. Given the right conditions, I like to think that most people are generally good and nice.
I’m not a Pollyanna; I’ve just learned through experience that people can change, and that first impressions aren’t always accurate. Several times in my life, I have encountered people who made my life miserable, who I never DREAMED had any redeeming qualities, who later did a complete 180. We ended up being, if not friends, then at least friendly acquaintances.
But that assumes that the mean people and I are all on the same playing field, that we’re all playing by the same rules. And let’s face it: some mean people are just plain MEAN. Some are mean AND crazy. Some don’t think they’re mean at all, but just being “real” or telling you something “for your own good.” Anna Quindlen has a great line in her book, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, about how she’s ditched those people as she’s gotten older.
You must realize, however, that some people not only don’t consider their sharp tongues and negativity a bad thing, but embrace it as one of their defining characteristics. These people usually end up on TV or radio.
Avoidance is my preferred method of dealing with these people. Change the station, change your gym schedule, change your job if you must to stay away from these positive-energy vampires. I know people who’ve pulled their kids out of a certain teacher’s class, or blocked frenemies on Facebook. But we all know it’s not always possible, or even preferable, to avoid all mean people.
Today I’m opening up the forum to my readers. I really, truly want to hear from you guys how you handle mean people in your lives. The critical in-laws, the nasty teen, the inconsiderate neighbor, the difficult boss, the judgy mom, the rude clerk. Or, hey, maybe even the patronizing midwife who – during your third hour of pushing in your 21st HOUR OF LABOR – tells you that you’re “doing it wrong.” (And, yes, that really happened to me.)
How do you deal with these people? How do you keep them from bringing you down? And can we round them all up, tie them down, and force them to listen to Taylor Swift’s “Mean” on repeat until they change their evil ways?