[media id="PRD__4cc5d6802e9990_63010504" title="Women Relaxing with Coffee"] Have you joined the Make a Change Challenge yet? In this Challenge, you make one small change each week for 6 weeks. Participants are eligible to win each of the weekly prizes, and the more you enter, the better your chances are to win the $6,000 Grand Prize.

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Week Three: Improve Relationships

Quality time with your friends is not merely fun- spending quality time with friends can releive stress, improve your self-esteem and self-confidence, and the research shows that people with positive social support networks live longer than people who are more socially isolated. The key to these benefits is to spend time with people you feel close to, people with whom you feel you can be mutually supportive for each other's goals. What if you discover that you have a "difficult" friend- one who seems to be constantly negative?

First, let's be clear. We're not talking about a friend who is having a bad day because something unusual happened that day. The day that my friend's house was broken into, she felt violated, shaken, and depressed. Her feelings seemed justified in that situation, and after a week or two, she seemed to regain her ability to see the positive side of life again. That's not what we are talking about. We're talking about the friend who is self-absorbed, who cannot talk about anyone but herself. When talking with this friend, you know you're about to experience a long, drawn-out, and dramatic conversation about everything that is difficult, miserable, or unfair in her life. The conversation is always about how bad things are. She may be judgmental or very critical of others. What's especially annoying is that she seems to enjoy complaining for the sake of it- she seldom wants to take action to change the situation. She is an energy drain. You try to stay positive and strong, but conversations with her suck the life out of you.

In her book "Positive Energy," author Judy Orloff calls these people "Energy Vampires." According to Orloff, here's how to identify an Energy Vampire:
•"You experience a sense of being demeaned, constricted or attacked.
•You intuitively feel unsafe, tense or on guard.
•You sense prickly, off-putting vibes. You can't wait to get away from them.
•Your energy starts to fizzle. You may feel beleaguered or ill."

Here are some different approaches for how you might practice self-care when confonted with negative people.

Ignore it / Remain detached
Sometimes a difficult person believes that being negative is the way to build connections with people. Some people believe that "the squeaky wheel gets the oil" and complaining is the only way that they are going to get their needs met. Often, a negative person is trying to get a reaction out of you. When you take the bait, and jump in and try to solve the problem, you're only encouraging the behavior that you dislike so much. The less you pay attention to them, the less they will annoy you.

Try not to argue with them
It's difficult, but try not to argue with the negative person. When you listen to what they have to say, you might suggest that it's not so bad, and try to redirect them to a more positive view of the situation. When the negative person feels that you're threatening their view of the situation, they will come back with more negativity. After you suggest a positive point of view, more often than not they will come back with more proof that it's actually worse. In most circumstances, you're not going to win this argument- you're not going to be able to convince the negative person that the world is suddenly sunshine and flowers.    

Remind yourself that you cannot fix them
It's imporant to remember that a person's negativity is their problem, not yours. You do not have a moral obligation to step in and try to help them fix every problem in their life. A true friend will understand when all you are able to do is listen and sympathize. A negative person wants you to come back with a possible solution, so that they can punch holes in your idea. They want their point of view to be right, and they will argue with you to prove their point. You don't owe anyone a solution to any of their problems.   

Try to discover what this person can teach you about yourself
Negative people try to get a reaction out of you, but this can only happen when they hit your "buttons," or issues that cause intense feelings for you. Mark I. Rosen, author of "Thank You For Being Such a Pain" suggests that annoying people can help stimulate our spiritual growth. Rosen believes that difficult people are sent to us as teachers, and "the Universe delivers unto us the ideal foe, a person whose characteristics exactly correspond to the places within us that need learning and healing." If we don't learn the lessons they bring, similar people will perpetually resurface until we do. Rosen recommends, "The next time a difficult person comes into your life, it might be helpful to tell yourself something along the lines of '(Sigh) Here comes another one. God, I ask you to guide me. You have sent this person to me for a reason. Help me to know what it is, and help me to cope successfully."

Stay out of the hole
Misery loves company, and the negative person will try to drag you down into misery with them. Try to stay positive yourself, and maintain your emotional boundaries. When talking to your negative friend, you might say, "I understand your pain, and I'm sorry that happened to you. I feel like I can be more helpful when I look at the situation from a different perspective." Sometimes when you find that the negative person is bringing you down, it might benefit you to walk away for a while and regain your bearings. 

Evaluate whether or not you should stay in the relationship
When being around a negative person begins to affect the way you see the world, it's time to evaluate whether you need this person in your life. Is this relationship mutually supportive? Are you getting what you want out of this relationship? Does this person ever offer to support you? When a negative person is only taking, and not giving anything back to you, it's not really a relationship. When being friends with this person is damaging the way that you see yourself and the way that you see the world, your best defense may be to remove them from your life. 

For more information:

Let's lighten things up! Here's the original Saturday Night Life "Debbie Downer" skit. The cast can't get through the skit without cracking up.

"Friendships: A surprising key to longevity." Online at RealAge.com:

"Positive Energy" by Judith Orloff

"Thank You For Being Such a Pain" by Mark I. Rosen