Ask Dr. Debra
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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.
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
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
me with your questions.
Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist who
specializes in relationships and communication techniques.
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