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 during 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 and some of us are that person. 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 in too negativity. These are people who are unlikely to have had very enjoyable childhoods. 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.
Negativity is resistance. It is our psyche using thought to push back against the Tao —against the current of life. And it feels like swimming upstream because, in a cosmic way, that’s exactly what it is. She’s using her power to think in an attempt to deny the better parts of reality. As a result she is torturing herself with chemicals and she isn’t even aware of her role in it.
The problem for us is that she’s infected you. Now she’s got you thinking negatively. So you were wise to respond. And 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 defining who she is only in relation to you. But she just is someone outside who she is to you. Her actions or negativity are not some assault on you by her. She just had the misfortune of growing up in a house with a lot of complaining. And we learn what we’re taught. After that, every ego is just a marionette for their subconscious thoughts and she’s no different.
While her words and actions need to enter you to be processed, as much as you’re able, don’t let her get you thinking in negative terms. Your minds are separate organs. There is no way for her to put the chemistry for unpleasant feelings inside anyone unless they voluntarily think in ways that generate that chemistry.
Instead of watching her for a thing you dislike, try watching her more like an entomologist might watch an insect. I don’t mean that derogatorily, I just chose something we wouldn’t have cuddly feelings about, but that we would still find interesting. We want to have less ‘us’ in the viewing and have it be more passive, or maybe detached is the better term.
A scientist doesn’t think an insect is putting on a performance for them. It is simply being what it is and the scientist watches it in an attempt to understand it better. Do that with her. Rather than wanting her to stop, wonder where it all comes from. Listen for clues.
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.
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. So they’re generally quite isolated both literally and figuratively. That doesn’t help.
As you gain a better understanding of the sources of the negativity, don’t be surprised if you spot a sign of some kind of passion flickering under her armor. 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 influence it anyway, so why not for the better?
At this point, the fact that she won’t attract a lot of friends will mean it may 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 with you, 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 more likely to 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.
Pay attention, use what you learn to keep things steered toward the positive and you’ll slowly start to help her rewire her understanding of the world to include more positivity. She’ll be bad at it at first and you’ll feel like you’re failing. But in reality it just takes a while to build speed. It’s wonderful that we can change wiring that old.
Of course she’ll enjoy the change too. And none of the experience with you will be false or manipulative. Just consciously positive. Of course, 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. And you can be the one to help her appreciate the fact that what she chooses to think about will shape how her day feels.
Good luck with it. For your sake and hers.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.