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bythebay's avatar

How do you accommodate a person who is fervently pessimistic when you are an eternal optimist?

Asked by bythebay (7999 points ) May 4th, 2009

A very close friend has had several disappointments in her life time that have led her to project a very negative and pessimistic attitude. She is rather unpleasant to be around as even the simplest of topics (say weather); turns into a diatribe on global warming or pollution. Every topic, no matter how serious or mundane, leads to a deeply negative and warning filled lecture.

Several other friends and even her own family members have commented to her about her prevalent negativity, and her response is usually very defensive and flippant. It seems not that her bar is set too high, but instead it’s just been removed. She is convinced she will always be let down. This approach is affecting her health and her life in general. She is frequently ill as she won’t take any meds to alleviate symptoms, so a simple cold will lead to bronchitis or a sinus infection. You see “medications never work for her like they’re supposed to, they usually have the exact opposite affect”.

Her sister recently suggested that perhaps she might be suffering from depression. The conflict that ensued was very hurtful to both of them. This is a life-long family friend, but honestly, I can barely stand to be around her anymore. I am most always optimistic although I am also a realist. I understand her psychological reasoning, but the constant negativity is draining. I’m at my wits end.

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24 Answers

cwilbur's avatar

What are you getting out of the friendship? Is there any reason to remain in this person’s presence?

qashqai's avatar

I have the same problem with a colleague.
Nothing major, but since we spend many time together it’s now a factor in our ‘work relationship’.

Every morning I ask him to smile. And I keep asking until he does. (I can be very heavy if I really want).
It helps, even if is just a little gesture.
I also joke his pessimism, trying to appear even more pessimist.

jbfletcherfan's avatar

It’s a situation where you’re never going to win. I had a friend who was like that. Nothing was ever positive. The glass was always half empty. It dragged me down & wore me out. It was literally draining to me. I don’t miss the hystreonics nor the constant negative attitude.

This friend of yours is never going to see things your way. Try to be supportive. That’s all you can do.

dynamicduo's avatar

Friends should never be burdens. Otherwise, what’s the point in associating with each other? I suggest taking some time to go on a friendship break. I would communicate with the person a last time for now, telling them that their constant negativity makes it impossible to be around her, and that you need some time away to let things calm down a bit. Then, stop hanging around with her. Eventually she will realize that her attitude to life is pushing other people away, and she may choose to change her behaviour to regain her friends. Or she’ll go on being who she is. Either way, it’s out of your hair, which is the most important thing here.

Dog's avatar

I too have a person in my life like this and here is how I cope:

1. NEVER share any personal good news- or the parade is rained on.

2. I make a guessing game of it in my head for my amusement. What I do is try to guess what they will say. Actually I am pretty good at it now and it is entertaining when I guess the negative response before they even say it.

cookieman's avatar

I also have a friend like this. 2008 was a horendous year for us both in different ways. But like you and your friend, we see things very differently.

I finally had to do as @dynamicduo suggests and give him a break. We were talking almost daily; I now speak with him about once or twice a month, and it’s brief and fluffy small talk.

Sadly, you may have to do the same. Sorry.

ubersiren's avatar

Would it be out of the question to ask her if you can help? Maybe you can set up time together that can be spent healing her. If she doesn’t agree, you could try showing her the beautiful and reliable side of life. Find a constant, like every other Monday, meet for lunch in the park to show her that someone will always be there for her. Just don’t acknowledge when she starts on a tirade of negativity. Change the subject. If she continues past the point you can bear it, tell her you’re leaving. Then show up again the next Monday. Be reliable and positive, but not a doormat. If she’s been dealt a bad hand in life, she may feel she has no control unless she assumes everything is a failure. If you show her that you will always be there, but won’t be give in to her negativity, she may learn that there is still worth in her life. If you want to keep her as a friend, it might be worth a shot. Chances are she doesn’t want to stay unhappy. Over time she may become receptive if you don’t give up.

I used to be very depressed, negative, and hateful. It took a lot of time and lifestyle changes to snap me out of it. Even still, I find myself being pessimistic on occasion, but at least I recognize it and am able to find the silver lining if I try.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

My mom is this way, so you can see why I don’t like to spend time with her. That, and she still subscribes to the rabid form of Christianity that so fucked up my childhood.

I would simply avoid this person, and as others have suggested, take a break from them before they drag you down to their level. Your own mental wellbeing should come first.

May2689's avatar

If this person is really close to you, you should encourage her to get some help. Maybe she is depressed and needs to take anti depressants. Try to be supportive and if the situation doesnt get better well.. you did all you could.

nikipedia's avatar

I agree that this sounds like depression to me. About 20% of women will experience an episode of major depression at some point in their lives.

Even though it didn’t go over well when her sister brought it up, do you think you’d be able to try again? Sometimes people need to hear things like this over and over before it finally clicks. I’d try to pointing her to a depression checklist and see if she feels like the symptoms resonate with her.

bea2345's avatar

It does sound like depression. It is more common than most people realize and it is treatable. Don’t try to treat it yourself – that would be bad for you. She should see a therapist.

TitsMcGhee's avatar

This question reminded me of 90s_kid before he was banned. Everything he had to say was negative, and it really got on my nerves. I think a lot of my frustration came from the fact that I didn’t know him personally. In this situation, I think I would do my best to get her to talk to someone who is trained and equipped to help. If she refuses that, I would try my best to stay on neutral topics or things that she is excited about or interested in. If she reacts badly to that as well, there is only so much you can do but continue encouraging her to get help.

Jeruba's avatar

One thing I would not do is try to cheer her up or get her to look on the bright side. That will only renew her determination to show you how wrong you are. If this were my friend and I were committed to a relationship with her, I know I’d be tempted to try reverse psychology, but therapy is better left to a professional. I think the best thing is to support her without supporting her gloomy Eeyore fantasies, and use whatever opportunities arise to steer her toward professional help.

cookieman's avatar

@Jeruba: The friend I referred to above – I call him Eeyore. It’s so appropriate.

wundayatta's avatar

If she is depressed, she should get treated. Getting her to treatment could be a big job. Does she speak of any symptoms that are like depression? Does she sleep a lot? Have trouble getting things done? Overly anxious? What I’m thinking of is that you could focus on the symptom, and get her to go to a doctor (who can detect and diagnose depression), or, if she is open to it, a psychiatrist. You might have to offer to make the appointment for her. (“If I make the appointment, will you go?”)

If there is a boyfriend or husband in the picture, then they should do this.

There’s a lot of stigma about mental illness these days. I think that people who suffer are probably stimatizing themselves more than anyone else is. Mental illness can be seen as a failure—of will and intelligence. I say this, because that’s what you’re going up against, if she is depressed, and if you are trying to help her.

I’m thinking that if people don’t want to admit it, then seeing a regular doctor might be easier than seeing a shrink. Any excuse will do to get her in—even a broken toenail. The doctor, if they see anything wrong, could make a referral for a psychiatric evaluation. You still have to get her to show up.

Meanwhile, as to the game of being negative about everything, you might try throwing in the towel. Just agree with her. In fact go further that she goes. At some point it may get absurd enough to make her laugh. You have to be very careful, though, that she does not think you are making fun of her. My point is that, as things get worse and worse, at some point, there is nothing you can do, except laugh.

I wish you the best of luck!

Jeruba's avatar

I’d hate to be perceived as negative myself in this response, but I do have to comment that getting someone to a place of help can be a big flop. I know of at least four cases, in three of which I was the instrumental person, where someone who needed help was gotten to the helping professional or agency, only to have them completely fall down on it. It backfired or failed.

In one of those cases the prospective patient was able to pull off enough of a performance that the evaluating professional concluded that there was nothing seriously wrong with the person and that the intervening relative (me) was the one who was out of whack. When professionals think they’re a little bit smarter than everyone else, they don’t realize how much they can be conned by a savvy client. Their own self-assurance does the real conning. The individual in question was able to keep up the act for the 50 minutes but not sustain it for long in a living situation. Why don’t professionals allow for this? Why do they think every word a sick person tells them is the truth? I found out later that the patient had told outrageous lies about me to that therapist and came away laughing mockingly at the therapist’s gullibility.

In another, the agency was NA, and the meeting turned out to be a joke. The person who seriously needed help and was finally ready for it was too turned off by the nonserious story-swapping and cant-parroting that went on, without any guidance at all, to ever go back. The window of willingness closed.

I don’t know how you evaluate the competence and relevance of prospective “help” so that this doesn’t happen. When you’ve done the big job of getting the person to the door, there has to be serious treatment on the other side.

cwilbur's avatar

You cannot help someone who does not want to be helped.

I was in a relationship for quite some time with someone who claimed he was unhappy with the way his life was going, but refused to make any attempt to change it, and actively resisted taking any responsibility for getting help. In the end, my splitting with him was the kick in the pants he needed to start getting his life in order, and it seems more and more as if the only reason he’s doing that is so that I will take him back.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

Keep them only as acquaintances, don’t invest in them enough time to build a friendship because you will be perpetually disappointed and that person’s negativity can spread to you or other friends & family. You get one mortal life, finite years and nothing’s guaranteed so choose where you direct your energy and love carefully.

Some people will say with enough attention and love these kinds of people can change, become wonderful and maybe it’s true. You decide to what degree you want to become a martyr for the downtrodden and damaged, only you can decide what you want out of your efforts.

justwannaknow's avatar

You will not change her. Either deal with it or get away from her.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

ha, ask my husband
he’s the optimistic one

3or4monsters's avatar

I work for those people.

I try to diffuse with humor, change the subject, or be that irritating shit who trills about how great and beautiful and wonderful everything is. ;) Take that!

lifeflame's avatar

I expect my friends to relate to me in a certain way. For example, if a friend likes gossips about someone behind their back, I discourage it and make it clear that I’m not interested in this. He or she can do it, but not with me. Similarly, if someone is clearly eating at my energy with consistent pessimism, I try to change the topic/their attitude, and if not, I just stop hanging around them.

Now of course, there are people that you care about enough/family members that you are stuck with, I find a good pinch of humour helps. Sometimes completely agreeing with the scenarios of doom and gloom and the end of the world and joking about it can clear the air. My mother, for example, has this phobia/obsession with how dangerous computers are for our eyes, and my brother and I just laugh about it and suggest that we make carrot cake. My mum eventually ends up laughing too because we go off the deep end with our conversation. Or sometimes I’ll just wag my finger at my brother in a very serious manner and we all end up laughing.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

Kill him…........................................................................................................
.............................................................................. With kindness

zen_'s avatar

Grin and bear it.

Eventually, you’ll come to your senses, too.

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