Pink FlowersCredit: Jess the Chemist


We all have those poeple in our lives that make us nuts - the lazies, the crazies, the needies, the jerks, the downers, etc. We can tolerate or ignore them, but the safest course is simply to avoid them.

Emotional contagion is the idea that emotions can be transferred from one person to another just by being in their presence. Being around those who are cheerful and lighthearted tends to make you more peppy too. This is why the "fake it 'til you feel it" strategy work so well because your "good mood" will brighten the mood of present company which in turn cheers you up. Ingenious!

This is also why it's best to avoid grouches. But what happens when you can't? Sometimes that difficult person is your boss, your mother, or your spouse. You can't cut them out but you can adopt some techniques that you, yourself, employ to make life easier.

  1. Breathe. It sounds too simple, but don't underestimate the calming effect of 5 or 6 deep breaths. You might not be able to go into full-on Zen Master meditation mode while the person is standing in front of you, but a few deep breaths can help you focus and relax.
  2. Cut out the emotion. This is not to say that you should be cold-hearted or apathetic to a loved one's complaints, but by detaching yourself emotionally from the offender's negativity, you can remain logical about your replies and save yourself from unneeded emotional distress.
  3. Be positive. Remember that idea of emotional contagion? Instead of grimacing when you see said difficult person enter the room, great them with a beaming grin. Maybe that person is just going through a difficult time in life. Sometimes all one needs is a friendly face or to know that they have an ally to perk up.
  4. Relate. By sharing an interest with others, you foster comradery. Do they like to cook? Share an interesting recipe you just found. Are they dog lovers? Send them that article you just read on the health benefits to pet-owning. Isolation can cause people to get wrapped up in their own negative thoughts, but by relating in a relaxed and open way, you might just make them feel more comfortable (and able to chill out).
  5. Be direct. If the difficult person is a work superior, this may not be the best tactic. However, if this is someone with whom you have some rapport, say a family member, you can tell them plainly that their negativity is bringing you down. Sometimes people aren't aware how much they complain or brood. A jolt of reality may be just what they need. Be nice but firm. You can even tell them that you won't want to be around them if they continue to act this way. Believe me, mothers don't like the thought of not being able to see their children.
  6. Use imagery. Mentally take yourself to another place. My haven is a small log cabin nestled in a snowy wood. The wet snow dampens ambient noises so the only thing I hear is the cracking fire and scents of pine permeate the air. Feel free to choose your own paradise. It may be the sight of your giggling child, an ocean wave crashing against rocks on a quiet beach, etc.
  7. Count backwards from seventeen. This is no long-term solution (especially not for familial or romantic relationships), but if you're at your wit's end and starting to designate plots in your backyard, this is a life saver. It's impossible to focus on the collossal pain in the neck in front of you when you're trying to remember the previous number......carry the, I suck at elementary math.....

 Difficult people are a fact of life, but you're not alone and you now you have an arsenal of strategies to deflect their negative impact on your life. Just keep calm and carry on!