How to Cope When People Say Hurtful Things

dealing with negative people

At one time or another most of us have encountered someone who is critical, judgmental, or just mean: a colleague, a loved one, a friend, or even a stranger.

For a lot of us, what they say can make us defensive, perhaps angry, and often sad. How do you deal with their negativity?  I know for me I had to set up boundaries for myself so I didn’t internalize other people’s negative emotions when I came across someone who was having a bad day, or a frazzled moment.  You can too.

We can’t change the people around us but we can change our own response.  Here are some tips to help you when you find yourself in a situation with a negative person.

#1. Start by reading this article “How You Can Deal with Highly Judgmental People” on LifeHack by Dr. Carol Morgan.  I found this super helpful for when you encounter people who often find faults or judge people negatively (and in this case towards you).  As a people person I care what people think and don’t want to offend anyone so if someone is upset I feel bad, but I’ve realized with some people you didn’t do anything wrong.  They just find fault or think negatively: “But the truth is that highly judgmental people criticize everyone and everything – especially themselves.”

I especially like this quote: “Don’t Take Anything Personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering”  -Don Miguel Ruiz.  How people act is often a reflection of how they feel about themselves or highlights their own issues; they may be mad about one thing but underneath they may be afraid, self-conscious, or worried.

#2. “I say a little prayer for you.” A few times I’ve encountered people who have said cruel things in anger that I didn’t deserve, which was hard to let go, but I needed to.  I couldn’t harbor that kind of negativity and let it grow like a weed.  So I found thinking positively really helped but didn’t enable or dismiss what they did.

I told myself, “Everyone makes mistakes and says hurtful things at times.”

Then I wished them the best.  I hoped they found happiness.  Clearly if they treat people like that (not just myself), they have anger issues and need to regulate their emotions so they can be in a happier place.  After this, I was finally able to let it go and move on.

 #3. Consider the Root of the Negativity.  There are people that never learned to calm down before you talk about something, to not jump to conclusions, to listen to the other side, and to compromise.  They just assume negative things, don’t listen to the other side, make demands, and rev up in anger quickly. Sound like someone you’ve encountered?

These people don’t know how to deal with negative emotions and lash out.  They project their feelings onto others: feelings of worry, loss, frustration, fear, insecurity, etc.

So when someone lashes out at you think about the real reason they’re mad.  It may be over the fact you’re late right now, but is it really because they have trust issues?  You didn’t clean well enough but is it really because they associate that with carelessness?

Once you understand the root of the negative emotions you have a place to start to talk calmly and come to a mutual understanding you can both agree on.

#4. Think of the Big Picture. The unknown is scary.  This can lead to negative assumptions about people: Oh they don’t care or they’re unreliable.  When in reality there could be circumstances we don’t know about.

Giving people the benefit of the doubt and considering possible scenarios can help people be more positive.  Maybe they had a bad day or are dealing with a difficult situation at home.  Maybe they just have poor social skills.  Sometimes trying to give someone some slack helps.  It doesn’t dismiss what they did, but it helps you let it go easier because you know they didn’t mean to, but reacted poorly to a situation and let their emotions get carried away.

#5 Don’t Believe them.  I really like this point from the article I shared above.  Just because someone says something hurtful doesn’t make it true.  Yet often we internalize it and perseverate on it like it is.  I always thought putting the quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” was difficult to put into action until I understood this point.  People say hurtful things but it’s your choice to believe it and internalize it.  If you choose not to believe it you would think something like they don’t know the real me, they don’t understand, they’re having a bad day, they’re lashing out from something else, etc.

#6 Laugh. Laughter is great medicine.  I don’t mean to laugh at people or anything, but sometimes thinking about how ridiculous something is helps let it go.  It helps you to brush it off as no big deal.  So if it’s appropriate later to reflect on the situation and laugh about it, go for it.

#7 Model Appropriate Behavior.  Sometimes we live with or are friends with a person who is critical or judgmental. In that case modeling how to appropriately handle negative emotions and thinking positively can help a loved one see (over time) that handling their emotions in a different way actually has more benefits to them than thinking negatively.  It’s tough to let loved ones figure it out on their own while you get the brunt of the negative atmosphere in the meantime, but often they won’t listen or understand if someone tells them anyway.  They need to learn by seeing the results of their own behavior.

May you find peace in the midst of the negativity you find in your life.

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