Ask a Therapist: How Do I Deal With Negative People in My Life?

You can't change other people, but you can change how you respond

Ask a therapist, how do I deal with negative people?

Verywell / Catherine Song

In the “Ask a Therapist” series, I’ll be answering your questions about all things mental health and psychology. Whether you are struggling with a mental health condition, coping with anxiety about a life situation, or simply looking for a therapist's insight, submit a question. Look out for my answers to your questions every Friday in the Healthy Mind newsletter.

Our Reader Asks

When I share good news with some of my friends or family members, they immediately point out the negative. Or, when I ask them how they’re doing, they just list all the bad things going on in the world. How do I deal with negative people in my life?

Amy's Answer

It’s not fun to share good news only to have a naysayer remind you of all the things that could go wrong, and it's overall discouraging to deal with negative comments. While you can’t change the people around you, there are steps you can take to respond to them in a positive way.

Give Feedback About Your Experience

If there’s a specific person in your life who always points out the potential pitfalls of your positive plans, gently point it out.

You might say, “When I told you how excited I was about this new job, you responded by telling me all the things I was probably going to hate about working for this company.” Simply pointing out an observation like that might raise someone’s awareness. After all, they may be negative so much that they don’t even realize that they’re doing it.

They also might think they’re doing you a favor. Someone might say, “I don’t want you to be naïve going into this situation so I had to give you a reality check about all the things that could go wrong.” Even though their heart might be in the right place, their negative attitude isn’t likely to be helpful.

Go After the Good

If someone always tells you about all the bad things going on in their lives, you might shift the conversation by going after the good. Ask a question like, “What was the best part of your day today?” or “What are some good things going on in your life right now?” 

You might also talk about the good things in your life. Acknowledge there are some things that aren’t all that great, but emphasize the importance of focusing on some of the good things, too.

The idea that you can talk about uplifting topics might be a revelation for some people. For those who have found they’re able to bond by commiserating with one another, the idea that you can celebrate positive things together might be a new idea.

Say What You Need Up Front

You might find it’s helpful sometimes to say what you want before you strike up the conversation. It might sound something like this, “I know several things could go wrong with this plan. But it’s not helpful for me to hear about those things right now. When I tell you what I’m doing, it’d be great to hear some positive things.”

Some people change their tune when you ask them to avoid reminding you of the negative. But certainly, not everyone will be able to do that. You might have some friends and family members who just can’t cheer you on for one reason or another.

It’s worth trying, however. Tell people what you hope to gain by sharing your news—a little moral support, a little cheer, or just acknowledgment that you’re doing something new.

They’re Reflecting Themselves, Not Your Chances of Success

It’s tough to hear negative things all the time. It may even take a serious toll on your mental health. Someone else’s negativity is likely a reflection of how they feel about themselves, not a fact about you or your chances of success. Keeping this in mind may help you keep negative comments in a healthy perspective. 

Someone who feels the world is an awful place is likely to point out all the things that could go wrong. And someone who feels awful about themselves is likely to say negative things about other people.

Establish Healthy Boundaries

You might decide it’s best to establish some healthy boundaries for yourself. That may mean limiting your interactions with certain individuals. It could range from ending phone calls when they become overly negative or it might involve ending a friendship altogether.

You might decide you’re better off keeping certain people at a distance. Tell them only the information you want them to have, and limit your exposure to them.

Grieving the Relationships You Wish You Had

Of course, none of these things are easy to do when you care about someone. If you have an unsupportive parent or a sibling who can’t ever be happy for you, it’s normal to experience grief as you accept they aren’t able to provide you with the things you need.

Coming to terms with the fact that a loved one isn’t able to cheer you on, lend a supportive ear, or provide help when you need it, is sad. And you might find that you keep wishing they would change.

While there’s always a chance that they’ll change down the road, you might need to accept them for who they are right now—someone who isn’t able to be a positive person in your life.

Hopefully, you have some supportive people in your life who can be happy for you. If you don’t, go find some. It’s important for all of us to have some happy, healthy people who can cheer us on in life. 

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.