Negative people are toxic!

Dear Dr. Hurd,

While preparing to have my first child, I resolved that I was going to breast-feed. I did a lot of research, spoke to my doctor, and was very excited about it. I couldn’t wait to share this momentous decision with my aunt, whom I feel very close to. Well, her negative reaction stopped me in my tracks! After she lectured me on how it did not work for her, how I would not like it, blah, blah, blah, I was left disappointed, and, well, just sad. Only after a while did I realize that this whole reaction had been about HER, not me. Why do some people have to ‘play out’ their bad attitudes by stepping on the dreams and hopes of others—especially those who (still) love them?

Dear Reader,

Your aunt probably isn’t even conscious of what she did to you. Why? Because she has no idea what she does to herself. People like her lack self-awareness. They have no idea of the impact their negative thinking has on other people.

We tend to be products of our environments unless we resolve to be otherwise. Chances are, your aunt was exposed to a lot of negativity early in her life. She never challenged or questioned it, so she became that way herself.

Inquisitive people like you are usually positive thinkers. Your research on the subject assumes that, (1) knowledge is worthwhile, and (2) life is worth exploring and learning about. You want the best life possible for you and your child. This is what your aunt didn’t understand, and this is why she hurt you.

You’re right that her reaction was not about you—it was about HER. She had a bad experience, therefore you must, too. Maybe she just meant to be honest. Maybe she was trying to shield you from what she believed was a mistake. But she handled it in a negative and hurtful way. A more positive person might have said, ‘That’s interesting. My own experience with breast-feeding was disappointing. I’ll share more about it, if you’re interested. But I didn’t do research like you did, and I’d love to hear about it. No matter what, I wish you well.’

One of the characteristics of leadership is being positive when others around you are negative. A true leader is someone who sees what isn’t obvious to most people. We all must be leaders of our OWN lives. If you decide—based on research, careful consideration of facts, and common sense—that a certain course of action is correct, then you owe it to yourself not to let anyone bring you down. Don’t be distracted by whether they mean it or not. They probably don’t, but that doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you keep your eye on your goal and take the path that makes the most sense to you. Of course, be open to the possibility you could be wrong, too. If someone points something out that you hadn’t considered, and it makes sense, then thank him or her for the help! But someone else’s negativity, by itself, is never a reason to become paralyzed.

If I were you, I’d say something to her. Don’t be hostile. That won’t solve anything. But you might say, ‘You know, I carefully researched this. I know your experience was negative, and I appreciate your honesty. But it seems to me you might ask for more information before you decide what I should or shouldn’t do.’ This way, you stand up for yourself without starting a fight. You’re telling her, ‘You’re negative, and I don’t appreciate it.’

We tend to look at depression, anxiety and stress from a strictly medical perspective. But many people suffer psychologically from the negative moods and attitudes of a sour spouse, pessimistic co-workers, or (as I’ve written about before) the carefully orchestrated gloom and doom of TV news. But there’s no point blaming other people for our own bad moods, because the emotional climate can only affect our attitude if we allow it to.

I once knew a person who saw disaster around every corner. It never struck—but he always saw it coming. Finally, one time it did. He was on a vacation and there was a terrible tragedy in which a number of people died. His immediate comment was, ‘I KNEW something bad would happen on this trip!’ To which I replied, ‘But, honestly, you say that every time. Think of all the times it didn’t happen.’ He didn’t appreciate my free advice, but I’m glad I said it anyway.

It’s bad enough that bad things happen to good people, but we still have to stand up to the negative emotional climate that surrounds us. Of course breast-feeding doesn’t work out for every new mother. Does that entitle a negative person to rant and rave about it? I say no. And so should you.