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Dear Dr. Debra,

I have a friend whose main conversational topic is how bad her life is. She's a good person and a caring friend, but I'm getting annoyed at her pity party. As I see it, her life is difficult, but it's not that bad. And much of her problems stem from the choices she makes or chooses not to make. I want to point out to her that constantly dwelling on negative thoughts might be sapping her energy to make good changes in her life, but I don't want to hurt her feelings or make her feel like she can't talk to me. Is there an effective way to do this?

A concerned friend

Yes, there is. I'm going to tell you how to do it after I discuss the power of positive thinking and talking.

People who lack self-esteem tend to wear negative "glasses" through which they view their world. In their conversations, they frequently make discouraging or negative statements about themselves or their lives. Sometimes these people might be coming from a "victim" place. Their life is bad, and it's not their fault. They might blame someone else--a parent, spouse, or boss--for their unhappiness. They don't recognize or take responsibility for how their own decisions have landed them where they are.

Your mind will create what you think about. If you think about how bad your life is, you will feel hopeless, lack motivation, and not make the necessary decisions to change your life. You will ignore opportunities and often alienate others around you with your poor attitude. They will eventually become tired of always being your cheerleader, trying to bolster your lack of self-esteem, and encouraging you to be motivated to make changes. Therefore you will create the negative life you think you have.

What can you do to change a negative outlook on life?

We now have over seventy years of studies on how an optimistic attitude makes for happier people and positively affects outcomes. There are hundreds of books detailing all aspects of this concept. You can find them in the business, self-help, motivational, or metaphysical sections of the bookstore. However, when I work with people, I send them to the beginning--Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. In the 1930s and '40s, Napoleon Hill studied the successful people of his time. He found that they all had a certain kind of thinking process, and he wrote about his findings. It's an old-fashioned read, but a good start.

Practice "thought stopping." When you think something which belittles yourself or others, or is pessimistic or discouraging, immediately substitute an opposite thought. Change, "I'll never be able to do this" to "No, you can do this. You just need to take one step at a time."

Start your day out with positive reading and prayer or meditation. You can read a few pages of a motivational book, or there are books specifically geared toward daily meditations. Reading something inspirational in the morning sets the tone for your whole day.

Before you go to sleep at night, do a gratitude list. Review your day and feel good about any of your accomplishments. Spend a few minutes feeling thankful for your loved ones, friends, and co-workers. As you snuggle in your warm bed under a safe roof, remember that many in the world do not have such necessities. Remind yourself that you live in a free country that is bountiful and full of opportunities. Hold all these treasures in your heart. If you are spiritual, give thanks to God.

Say affirmations. One of the things researchers have discovered is the power of affirmations. Affirmations are simple sentences that begin with 'I' and are followed by a goal. The goal is stated as if you've already achieved it.

Some examples:
I have a healthy, toned, and flexible body.
I have a wonderful marriage to a special man.
I am a successful author.
I am a positive, upbeat woman.
I make $100,000 a year.
I spend quality time with my children.

Write out your affirmations and tape them to your bathroom mirror. Say them ten times a day. Be sure to recite your affirmations as if you really believe them and are excited about having them come true.

Now, to help your friend:

Pick a time when she's not complaining about her life. If you react in response to her complaints, she will be hurt, and will probably not absorb what you are trying to tell her.

Begin by affirming the relationship. State what you value about your friendship. In this case, you'd say something like, "You're such a good person and a caring friend."

State your concerns about her reaction. "I want to talk to you about something, but I'm concerned that I'll hurt your feelings or make you feel like you can't talk to me. That's not my intention."

Discuss how her negativity affects you. Be specific, but kind. She needs to know her attitude is draining you or causing you to retreat from her.

Ask her to examine her negative attitude. Give her some examples of what she tends to say or do. Then share with her the information I've stated in the beginning of the article.

Brainstorm with her ways she could become aware of and change her thinking. Work on some affirmations with her. Offer to point out to her when she's saying something negative to you. Give her some books to read or suggest titles. Also, ask her to let you know if she sees you slip into pessimistic thinking.

Hopefully, your friend will choose to work on her negative attitude. By the two of you working on this together, you will find your friendship growing closer instead of becoming strained.

Feel free to write me with your questions.

Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in relationships and communication techniques.

To read previous 'Ask Dr. Debra' articles, please visit www.wetnoodleposse.com, where Dr. Debra is a regular contributor, or click here to view the archives.





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