Living, working, or being around someone who constantly complains, makes everything about them, or has a generalised negative outlook on life can be quite challenging, let alone draining. You may find yourself being sucked into their spiral by either agreeing with their pessimistic perspective, giving into the victim mentality or joining in on the complain game. This is an interesting dynamic and one that I think many of us can relate to. It can also feel incredibly consuming, difficult to shake, and no amount of appeasing or positivity seems to break through the tension.
Typically this sort of behaviour is rooted in a program or pattern that was developed early on in childhood where that person likely didn’t get their needs met. The way that they might have gotten attention, even if it was not ideal, might have been to sulk or wine or martyr and so because that tactic worked then, they do that now to get the same response. What this behaviour does is it gives the person a sense of connection in that they are able to project their feelings of helplessness and frustration into those around them creating an environment that mimics how they feel.
Let’s dive into this a little deeper… think about a time recently when you encountered someone “negative” in your space. If you can tap into how you feel when around this person, especially in the height of this kind of “negative” behaviour you will likely be tapping into how they are feeling. It’s the same as when kiddos tantrum, they want you to feel how they feel. When a little one tantrums and parent/caregiver/adult around them feels frustrated, this is the child’s attempt at getting an adult to feel what they are feeling in the hopes of having this feeling heard. Since a lot of us don’t have the tools to emotionally regulate as adults we rely on the same tactics.
So with this new found awareness of how they feel, what could you do to loop out of the negative spiral?
Start by asking yourself “what would I need when I feel like this?” It is likely that if you can identify what you would need when you feel alone, angry, frustrated, helpless, irritated, etc. you can perhaps support this person to get their needs met in an attempt to redirect their negativity. The caveat here is to ensure that you have the boundaries to not sink into their BS and so it’s also important that you’re able to stand firm here… so let’s play this out:
The person is playing out their usual story of pessimism, victimhood, or complaining, you feel your emotions begin to rise up and so you choose to check in and you notice that you feel frustrated which could be a projection of their feelings. Take note.
You could ask them “hey, I’m feeling frustrated and am wondering if perhaps you are feeling this too? What do you need?”
In this moment, one of two things could happen – Either they snap out of their funk with the sudden awareness of their feelings and tell you what they need to not feel frustrated or they use this as an opportunity to complain more.
If they choose to use this as an opportunity to complain further, this is where you’ve got to stand firm and not get swept back into their emotional state. In this instance you could respond with. “Ok, I’m noticing that you are feeling really frustrated right now. I get that, and it’s ok. I am sensing you might want to vent these feelings and so I’m willing to be here to hold space for you to vent this out for 15 minutes.”
Then create the space, have them sit down maybe with a cup of tea, and time it. Give them the space to vent. You don’t respond or pick anything up, you don’t offer any advice or feedback, simply let it wash over you (they may even vent about you). Anytime they slow down you might prompt with “what else?” When the time is up simply say “thank you for sharing” and give them a hug.
If it feels right and you don’t think they’re going to rehash everything they just said, you can ask how they are feeling or whether they are feeling better.
This may take time and patients and practice… this is likely decades of programming for that person and it will take some for you to also stand your ground and not get sucked in. Give it a try and see whether this works, I would love to hear from you too on how you found this, so connect with me and let’s chat!