I can’t stand a woman I work with. All she does is complain all day about everything and everybody. I’ve sat next to her since I started a few weeks ago and it doesn’t matter who she’s talking to the conversation’s all negative. She criticizes all of us and she has an opinion about every subject in the world. I’m starting to hate her and I know that’s not a good thing for me. What would you recommend I do in a situation like that?
Trying Not to Hate
How wise of you to be proactive about the feelings you were experiencing throughout your work day. I’m very impressed. And your situation is a common one so it’s good that a lot of people will be able to read about it and we can start to change everyone’s days for the better.
First off, of course we all know people like this. They won’t talk about the fact that the warm weather’s a day away, they’ll tell you that the cold weather has lasted over a week. And if it’s been warm, they won’t talk about enjoying that weather, they’ll tell you about how they dread what’s coming. Essentially any subject will be referred to in critical, judgmental, opinionated, habitual ways. Early on in life too many things got wired into negativity. These are people who are very unlikely to have had healthy home lives. Essentially what you’re hearing and seeing on the outside is a direct reflection of what’s going on in the inside too. One is the shadow of the other.
Of course the person this bothers the most is the woman herself. By repetitively and consistently choosing that course-of-thought she guarantees herself a steady dose of the sort of brain and body chemistry that is hard on a person. Stress is not a good thing. To be negative is to not accept what is. It is pushing back against the Tao—the current of life—and it feels like swimming upstream because, in a cosmic way, that’s exactly what it is. She’s torturing herself with chemicals and she isn’t even aware of it. The problem for us is that she’s infected you.
At least the fix is easy. You have to reinvent her in your imagination. You have to see her a different way. Right now you’re turning what she is as being about you or having something to do with you. Such is not the case. She just is. Everyone is just a marionette for their thoughts and she’s no different. So don’t let her get you thinking in negative terms. Instead, watch her like an entomologist might watch an insect. (I don’t mean that derogatorily, I just want something we wouldn’t have cuddly feelings about.) Be passive. The scientist doesn’t think the insect is putting on a performance for him. It is simply being what it is and he is watching it in an attempt to understand it better. Do that with her.
Actually learn to watch how she forms the negativity. Understand how she hears things and what word choices she makes. You’ll see that she’s not negative, she just sees the world through very dirty glasses and so she’s just calling it as she honestly sees it. You’ll also catch her doing it to herself. Or maybe you’ll catch her doing the exact opposite—she’ll never say anything negative about herself because she just can’t stand that anymore. But whichever one it is it will have grown out of how she was treated when she was little.
As you watch her more closely you also might notice that her life is very small and repetitive. Angry negative critical people don’t get invited out a lot, and not many people want to be their friends except other angry negative critical people. But they’re generally quite isolated both literally and figuratively. You may spot a sign of some kind of passion flickering under the armour. And it will be something warm. Something gentle and kind. Plants, horses, a faux romance with a movie star, romance novels, cats. There will be some attempt to find some warmth. Which is the basis of Step Two.
In Step Two, now that you’re not taking the way she is so personally, you can choose to make an attempt to impact your environment in a positive way. There’s no guarantee it will work because she has to actually change her thinking and you don’ t control that. But you can influence it. At this point the fact that she won’t attract a lot of friends will mean it will be easier for you to have an effect.
All you have to do is engage her in those one or two subjects where she can find joy. Talk about those with her. Build a positivity bond between you and her so that when she sees your face she associates it with happiness. Because there will be chemical bleed. If she’s just been super happy because she was having a discussion about Arabian stallions, then if a co-worker walks up and asks her something, rather than her being in her usual negative state of mind she’ll be in a positive one and so her first response is far more likely to be warmer. That’s how we all work.
So watch her, find out what makes her happy, engage her with that and then continue to watch her learn to see things in more positive ways. The great thing about it is it will help keep you mindful too. Because if you’re watching her then you won’t be creating a you with your thinking. You’ll simply be Being. And in that state you’ll notice a lot. So use what you learn to keep things steered toward the positive and you’ll slowly start to rewire her understanding of the world to include more positive responses.
She’ll be bad at it at first and you’ll feel like you’re failing but in reality it takes a while to build speed. It’ll start off that you’ll be excited to hear anything positive. And then you’ll get bits of days where she’s pretty good. And it will build and build (with the odd tumble backwards too), and within about three months you can have had quite a shift happen already. And if you maintained it she would be pretty nicely rewired within a year. She would still have times where she was down and negative, but once people have been truly happy they don’t want to stay in negativity anymore. She only stays there now because she’s never truly known happiness. But after she changes, she’ll let herself be negative for a while, but she’ll eventually shift by choice simply because she’ll know how. Because you’ll have taught her.
That’s a pretty good bet anyway.
Good luck with it. Negativity is an insidious thing. I’m glad you’re being proactive about defending your life. It’s too short to waste any of it hating anyone. Give her my love.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.