Finding Cherries in a World That Can Seem Like the Pits 1: Those Stressful Friends

Something that’s really striking my consciousness lately is the question of how to sort the good from the bad. As a stress-management coach people come to me for advice on these things, so it’s sort of natural that these types of questions would cross my path. But what has come to my attention lately are the number of different ways this same theme comes up. Here are some examples:

~ “What do I do about this friend who is always negative? I really like her, but I just don’t want to spend much time with her.”

~ Life is so stressful, I just can’t seem to find time for anything anymore. I used to take long baths and go for walks. Now it’s all a hassle and there’s never enough time to get it all done. How do I learn to enjoy life again?”

~ There is so much horrible stuff going on in the news. I want to stay aware of current events, but I just don’t feel like I can pay attention to the news anymore. How do I remain informed without getting depressed?”

While these questions are all different in that they are talking about very differing phenomena, they are all very similar in their overall context: separating the good from the bad. This really is an age-old question. I’ve heard it brought up in religious and spiritual contexts. I’ve heard it brought up in my graduate political science seminars. I’ve heard it brought up in conversations with friends. And truthfully, in my opinion, there is no one “best practice” answer that can apply to all of the contexts.

There are some strategies that can be tried on for size which can help a person figure out what works best for them. Let’s start our conversation about how to embrace the positive in our lives by talking about friends.

Last month’s blog series covered the importance of making friends and building your tribe. One thing we will find along the way of building our tribe is that sometimes there are people who we really like in a lot of ways, but who also drag us down.  This weeks blog is going to focus on how to mindfully find peace in those friendships.

THOSE TAXING FRIENDS

Most of us have at least one friend who is lovely in many ways, but who is also a Debbie or Douglas Downer. This is the person who always seems to have a proverbial fly in her chardonnay. He sees the glass as half-empty instead of half-full. Of course, this friend is not “all negative” or we wouldn’t be friends with the person. We just wish they would look on the bright side of things more often. So what do we do?

Here are some strategies to try:

~ Lead by example. When things are negative in your own life, set an example by breathing through them to bring yourself inner peace. What you don’t want to do is point out to your friend that you are doing this. Let her just watch you. Don’t give her “helpful” advice about how you are proceeding so well through your difficult time.

~ Set time limits. Let’s just be honest here, no one can be around Negative Ned or Nellie for that long. The problem is that if we set too many time limits the person is going to feel like they are being blown-off. Then you’ll have the problem on your hands that your friend will probably confront you on this. For some, being in a negative space – e.g. negative confrontation – is comfortable, so she will have no problem bringing this up to you. The time limited friends need to be treated with special consideration. Make sure the time you do spend with them is high-quality time. That way your friend won’t feel slighted about the lack of time.

~ Conversely, instead of spending focused one-on-one time with this friend, spread the work around. Try only spending time with her in groups. This then lightens the negativity burden on any one person. If you make sure she’s invited to a lot of things, she won’t feel like she hardly ever gets to see you. Unless this is already your pattern though, don’t shirk spending at least some one-on-one time with her. She’ll figure out what’s going on if she’s used to seeing you alone, but then suddenly only sees you in groups. Also, make sure she still feels good about being with you even if you are in a group. Make sure you pay some special attention to her and treat her like she’s important.

~ Have a mindful conversation with your friend. While this might be the most intimidating of the suggestions, it’s also most likely to be the most fruitful. Mindful conversations proceed with empathy and compassion. Try asking your friend if there is an underlying cause for her outward negativity. If there is, maybe you can help. Or, maybe you can support her in finding the help she needs. Make sure he knows that you are asking because you care and you want to be supportive. Remember, mindful conversations do not criticize in words or tone. Try to use “I” statements. The more empathy you can have the more likely you are to have a fruitful conversation.

Someone recently said to me, “if you can’t complain to your friends, who can you complain to?” My answer to this is, “a coach or therapist.”  That’s not to say that friends cannot, or should not, be there for each other in times of emotional need. It’s just that it’s important to draw boundaries if your friend is overtaxing your friendship. It is perfectly okay to say to your friend, “I love spending time with you, and I am so sorry that you are going through such a hard time, but I feel like you would really benefit from some professional guidance from a coach or therapist.”  If your friend acts offended you can simply explain that you have seen her suffering for quite a while now and want her to feel better. If she’s still offended, and decides not to be your friend anymore, that my just be what needed to happen to give you some peace of mind.

I welcome your questions, comments and stories about your friendships! Feel free to comment away J

Stay tuned for next week’s installment of “Finding Cherries in a World that Seems Like the Pits.” I will be talking about some tips and techniques for finding peace-of-mind in a busy life.

Love & Light,

Jen

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