When Someone You Love Is Negative Toward Others

Focus your attention on positive people and positive movement.

Posted Sep 02, 2020

 65171972 Mheim301165/Dreamstime
Source: ID: 65171972 Mheim301165/Dreamstime
  • “I was reading my husband’s Facebook page and found some disturbing posts. I am so embarrassed.”
  • “Last week when I was out for dinner with a family friend she asked me ‘what is it like having such racist parents as yours?’ and I wanted to cry at the dinner table.”
  • “My brother makes negative comments about women every time we get together, and last time he said something loud enough for the hostess to hear. I wanted to die.”
  • “I love my sister but she thinks it is ‘funny’ to make fun of a disabled person. She said ‘they are not right in the head so what does it matter?’"
  • “My 25-year-old son had some friends over the other day and they were exchanging derogatory slur words about a certain ethnic group.”
  • “I have a number of friends who live alternative lifestyles, but my wife doesn’t want me associating with them because she thinks there is ‘something wrong with them.’ I don’t want to choose my spouse or my friends but I care about both.”

These quotes were collected from people who are struggling to care about those they love but navigate through their perceived differences.

The current climate could tell us that it is okay to be cruel. It’s okay to insult someone, to use a derogatory term that if someone used on you might be considered “fighting words” and to generally smear people who are different or don’t do things the way you believe they should be done. This normalizing has seeped into many personal relationships too, making those who choose to accept all people start to question those they love who espouse these views.

The hardest thing is that for those who want to continue to love their family and friends, they might have to choose to observe what is happening, but not engage. Engaging with someone who projects extreme negativity toward others will most often result in having that person spew their bile and upset towards you. If you don’t want to have broken relationships or become the target of their vitriol, it is often best not to say anything.

So what do you do when someone you love behaves in a hurtful and even hateful way toward some person or group of people, and it hurts your heart when they do it?

  1. Reconsider the relationship you have with the person. While it is hard to get distance from a spouse or a child, or even family you may live close to and will be around a lot, consider creating mental space from them. If they start to engage in a way that offends or hurts you, walk away. Don’t do this in anger, or they will come after you to engage in the fight. Just walk away to find something else to do. You can even go sit in the bathroom and read a positive meme or poem to center yourself and focus. It isn’t that you don’t care; it’s that you might have to create space to protect yourself. And in some cases, this may mean separating yourself entirely from the other person’s universe. Do you want to be married to someone who is hurtful? Do you want to spend time with people who are family but whom you would not choose to be friends with? These can be hard choices, and only you can decide what is tolerable and acceptable for you. In the meantime, create daily space or space when you are around the person. Sometimes silence is your best answer. Listen and watch but don’t engage.
  2. Be able to say, “This is hurtful to me. You are entitled to your views, but please don’t share them when you are around me.” You have a right to create the space in the relationship where you can ask someone, politely, not to engage in a topic that upsets you. Now, oftentimes, the other person will defend, deny, or try and defeat you by making your “sensitivities” the problem, or by fighting for their right to their position. You have to refuse to engage and try and maintain calm. Just keep repeating, “You are entitled to your views, I am simply asking you not to share them when you are with me.” Many times the person spinning a hateful approach doesn’t like being called out, so they will make you the problem. You are a “snowflake” or a “wuss” or a “sissy” for having this perspective. When this happens, you might have to go back to step #1 and just create the space you need to center yourself.
  3. Practice calming techniques. When someone you care about behaves in a hateful way toward others, you can often feel your blood pressure rising, your stomach churning and your head starting to hurt. Recognize these physical symptoms and focus on your own body. Focus inward. Become aware of your breathing. Slow it down deliberately. Let your thoughts pass by slowly and easily — choosing not to ruminate on the words the person has said. Be aware of them, but use your mind’s “broom” to sweep them away. Become aware of your hands, your feet, your back, and your shoulders. Loosen them, shake everything out. Physically allow the harmful words to fall off you. It can be helpful to imagine you are a duck and let the hurtful droplets fall like water off your back.
  4. Surround yourself with people who do care when you are not with the person who is hurtful. Find positive sayings, and positive people to be around. Fill your mind and your heart with all of what you see out there that is good. Focus on the stories and people who are working to make a difference and make the world better for everyone. Minimize the negativity by surrounding yourself with love. You might not be able to change the person you care about, but you can love them despite what they do — the definition of unconditional love. Fill your life with people and events that uplift you and make you hopeful. The more good you see elsewhere in the world, the more able you will be to withstand a difficult perspective coming from one person or a couple of people around you. If someone does not want to learn and does not want to change, they won’t do it. Find others who uplift you — focus your attention on positive people and positive movement.
  5. Get involved. The best way to confront the hate circulating around you is to play a role in diminishing it. Vote. Volunteer. Donate money. Write letters. Read and learn. Be an educated and active participant in the world around you. As Mahatma Gandhi said: “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”