I work with a close friend who is very unhappy with her life. She is talkative, negative and constantly complaining. At the end of the day, I am exhausted and drained. How do I confront her and still stay friends?
Your friend is an energy vampire. By the end of the day, you feel worn out. She starts out grumpy and tired, and ends up feeling better.
How does she do it? By feeding off your energy. When she feels down, you try to cheer her up. Because she is so negative, this takes a lot of effort on your part. In effect, you infuse her with your energy. No wonder you feel so tired. Metaphorically she is sucking the life out of you.
She has problems and she doesn’t know what to do about them. To avoid taking responsibility for her life, she blames others. Each day, she off-loads her negative feelings onto you. And you accept them. This is how she copes with her life. She doesn’t have to address her problems because she hands them to you. Off-loading keeps her anger and grief at a manageable level.
You are not doing her any favours by encouraging her. In fact, you are helping to keep her stuck.
To free herself, she needs to take responsibility for the mess she is in. Blaming others and complaining is the stance of a victim. Victims feel powerless while people who accept responsibility feel empowered. Power and responsibility go together. She doesn’t realise it but, once she accepts that she is responsible for her life, the “victim” is gone.
You could tell her this but it would not make any difference. She would not understand. You could tell her how you feel about her constant negativity. She’ll probably make an effort to be cheerful, but it won last.
The best way to deal with negative people is mirror their concerns. Sometimes they hate their reflection in the mirror so much, they change. You mirror her feelings by reflecting them back to her. While she is complaining, ask yourself this important question: “How exactly is she experiencing this?” Then feed your impressions back to her.
Imagine she is complaining about a shopping expedition. She says, “You wouldn’t believe how rude the shop assistant was. How do people like that get jobs?”
Notice how she is feeling. She seems annoyed or offended. She is certainly upset. “Upset” is a good, catch-all word to use if you aren’t sure of her exact emotions. Don’t worry if you’re wrong – she’ll correct you.
Now, feed your observation back to her: “You’re offended by the way she treated you.”
She will probably agree: “Yes, it’s unacceptable. That woman doesn’t deserve her job.”
Now reflect back the second part of her complaint: “You get annoyed when people don’t do their job properly.”
Keep reflecting back her feelings until she drops that subject. Do the same each time she complains.
It is very difficult to keep complaining when your feelings are acknowledged. Gradually, you will force her to accept her emotions. Now, she has a choice: to take responsibility for her feelings, or to change the subject.