We’ve all encountered them, and some of us have the misfortune of encountering them on far more frequent basis than others…negative people.
An interaction with a negative person has the capacity to completely knock one’s socks off, and not in the good way. I’m a pretty sensitive person – who am I kidding, I’m about twice as sensitive as the most sensitive person you know – and no matter how obvious the oncoming negativity may be, I find my cortisol levels shooting through the roof and an emotional reaction welling up in my chest every time I’m bombarded with a stranger’s negativity in passing.
How is it possible that I allow a brief encounter to rob me of my own peaceful feeling? Why do I allow myself to be so vulnerable as to ingest the negative vibes they’re sending out instead of letting them ricochet off of my exterior? That being said, I’ve gone about devising a little escape route for negativity. Said negativity is oftentimes written all over the person’s face as they approach; occasionally it utterly blindsides you; in unfortunate events the negativity evolves out of a human exchange that turns ugly. No matter the origin, one person’s negativity has the power to completely invade another person…unless that person is armed with a peaceful indifference. I suggest applying these three concepts to any negative situation to avoid absorbing another person’s anger or pessimism.
1. Erect an intangible barrier! A shield, if you will. I like to imagine Plexiglas, strong and bendy, all the better for seeing through but still ricocheting. I urge you to use your imagination, though, and envision whatever material makes you feel safest and most calm. Whether it’s Plexiglas, silkscreen, cloth, a lovely sheer scarf, whatever – imagine this protective shield as a guard or filter. You can see through it, see the negativity, but your state of wellbeing is preserved by this protective force field that is impenetrable by the gloom. Negative people will come and go, they exist; it just is what it is. But, on your own quest for the jivan mukti, I hope you have cultivated a relative sense of ease and calm in your daily existence. For all the hard work we do to beautify ourselves on the inside, shouldn’t we have a protective layer in place on the outside to prevent our joy from being poisoned by a stranger’s negative nature? Enter, the Plexiglas emotional shield!
2. Place yourself in another’s shoes. We can’t literally do this, of course, but we can metaphorically do it. We can try, no matter how brusque or rude a person might be to us, to remain aware of the fact that we have no idea what is occurring in that person’s life. They might be suffering heart-wrenching trauma, in which case we ought to send them healing energy and extend compassion towards them. Or they may just be an angry person, in which case may they serve as a reminder to be even kinder to others and perhaps they could even benefit from our exhibition of serenity. Now, I am human, and I realize that sometimes people are so rude that it makes it practically impossible to shower them with kindness. In this situation perhaps make it your priority to not absorb their negativity and harbor it in your own body by returning to that image of your shield. If you find their energy so horrendous, just focus your mind on bouncing that negativity right off of your Plexiglas and far away from you.
3. Breathe. I find myself hesitating to breathe deeply when faced with an aggressive, negative person. It is completely unconscious but my breath grows shallow, as though untrusting of the current circumstances and reluctant to rise to the surface. You know those types of people who approach you as though YOU are the root of all their problems? Or the ones who seem to have left the house searching for something to justify the anger they carry within them? When faced with an interaction of this nature, let’s do our best to breathe, and breathe DEEP. One of those lungful, lymph flow stimulating, endorphin-inducing breaths. A deep breath sends a shot of oxygen to the brain, allowing us to think more clearly and rationally. This moment of oxygenation also offers us an opportunity to remember this situation is one of brevity, and it too shall pass.
Tolerance is an invaluable virtue in life and in coexisting with others. In addition to a healthy dose of tolerance, I believe we would all benefit from a certain element of ambivalence. By ambivalence I certainly don’t mean dispassion for life or ignorance of one’s own beliefs, but rather a hesitancy to instantly attach to experiences. Recall the yogic image used during meditation of the “stream of consciousness;” letting thoughts drift by in the stream and choosing which to pick up and attach to…why not try and apply this to human interactions as well? Choosing to let the negative experiences float on by. When we remain a “distant observer” of sorts, and take the extra moment for that very deep breath, we offer ourselves a moment of reflection before reacting. That moment is precious. It has the capacity to completely free us from consuming another person’s negativity.
Though we cannot escape negativity in the world, we have every tool to protect ourselves from unnecessarily consuming the detrimental energy of others.