6898333367_1fc85e2b0b_zYou call up a friend to get together.  They sound like a foghorn and can hardly talk because they’re coughing so much.  Do you go out of your way to hurry and get together right then so you can expose yourself to their crud?  Probably not.

Similarly, did you know that just like you can catch a germ from someone, you can also “catch” emotions and behavioral attitudes, a phenomenon known as social or emotional contagion?  The people with which you surround yourself can heavily influence your outlook, values, emotions, and behaviors which can work for or against you.

People who are peaceful, positive, or motivated help you to feel similarly.  I’ll bet you can think of a special person who makes you feel as if you can do anything and the possibilities are endless whenever you talk to them.  On the other hand, there are those people who are negative, reactive, or low energy which rubs off on you as well.  These emotional vampires seem to have a cloud follow them wherever they go, and they suck the energy right out of a room and zap yours.

In situations where you can choose, you will benefit greatly by consciously deciding what kind of people with which you surround yourself.  This simple act can change your world. You can immerse yourself in a group of people who lift you up, give you energy, support you, help you see a more positive perspective, encourage you to be a better person, and aid you in achieving your dreams.  Conversely, you can hang around people who complain, gossip, worry, bring you down, and encourage you to waste your time and resources.

Now, obviously in some situations, like work or family, you aren’t able to pick and choose, but even in these environments you can limit your interaction with negative people to no more than is necessary or consciously refuse to take on their negativity.

By adopting a more positive crowd and perspective, you can actually train and mold your brain over time because of neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to physically change in response to experiences, social and emotional interactions, and even thoughts. A study in 2010 at the University of Michigan showed that simply talking pleasantly with people had short-term mental benefits to executive functioning similar to playing brain games.  However, when participants engaged in conversations having a competitive tone, they showed no cognitive benefits.

Being one of those emotional vampires, I used to have a sour attitude, had perfected the victim role, and surrounded myself with people who reinforced my views of the world. When I whined about how unfair my life was, they chimed right in sympathizing with my troubles. In fact, I didn’t like people who challenged my perspective, encouraged me to see things differently, or didn’t sympathize with me because I thought they were callous and uncaring. Since, I’ve learned that there’s a difference between sympathy and empathy.

As the new me began to take shape after a brain injury, I left these negative nellies behind.  It’s not that they were bad people, but I just couldn’t afford to have anyone in my life who wasn’t a positive, encouraging influence.  I needed all the hope and support I could get.

I’m diligent and serious about surrounding myself with positive people today.  My time, energy, and attitude are my most valuable resources and the tools with which I create my life.  If someone cannot add to my life in a positive way, they aren’t in my life any more than absolutely necessary.

image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/whita/

20 Comments

  1. I have a hard time imagining you as a victim, Debbie, but I’ll take your word for it. I suppose being forced to be more proactive by your injury must have helped you learn to pilot your own ship of state, and become more of a happy genie in your flesh-bottle.

    I enjoy having relationships and associating with complicated people. Sometimes in the past I engaged in disastrous, misguided romantic relationships because of this preference. Once I learned you can treat complex schnooks with compassion without falling in love with them, my success average improved. And health care work gives me properly-regulated boundaries within which I can be very nice to highly interesting people who have problems, without suffering personal damage.

    Helping to heal others helps heal me too. I know you understand what I mean. It’s part of why you write these things here, and I certainly enjoy your thoughts, and information on books I haven’t read.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Oh yea! I was not one of those sad, “poor, pitiful me” kind of victims. I was more the pissed off, angry, fight back kind of victims. It is still a victim mentality. I exerted all my energy into trying to control others and situations rather than take responsibility for my part in them and controlling myself. Now, I put the energy to much better use.

      I know what you mean….more complicated people are more interesting, but it is no fun to get sucked into their dramas. Sounds like your job affords you the perfect opportunity to engage and observe and keep a safe distance. I also feel compelled to help others because I can so relate to them and where they are. I have managed to do it successfully these days with caring but detachment.

  2. The Vizier Reply

    Hi Debbie,

    I used to know emotional vampires and toxic people. Heck, at one point in my life I was probably like that, surrounding myself with negative people and being negative myself. When I finally realized how draining it was for people to be around me, I made a conscious effort to change. And it did make a world of difference since I received feedback from close friends that it was easier to breath around me haha!

    But yeah, it is important to choose the people we hang out with carefully. It can make all the difference when it comes to dealing with what life has in store for us. Positive people are likelier to come up with creative solutions than negative people can. And I know I could always use a good deal of inspiration and fun from the company I keep.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! 🙂

    Irving the Vizier

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Irving the Vizier, welcome! (I had to look up vizier. Has several meanings. How do you mean it?) It is terribly draining – physically, emotionally, and mentally – to be negative and to be around negative people. Good for you for realizing this and making the changes. I did not even do this until a few years ago. It is so obvious to me now. I find it hard to fathom that I did not see this before. Live and learn, eh?

      • The Vizier Reply

        Hi Debbie,

        I am fine if you just call me Irving. Irving the Vizier is a mouthful and I only use it in signing off as a formality. Well, I’ve always had a fascination with history and the Ottomans were one of my favourite empires so I mean Vizier in the sense of minister. It literally means bearer of burden and that’s pretty much the role I enjoy, giving advice and sharing the burden of people where possible. 🙂

  3. I know about this. I turned toxic after a bad relationship. I am trying to recover. It is amazing that every single person has the capacity to become either-or and the cultures they are involved in reinforce it. Now I must ask, are we talking about realistic optimists? I notice that positive people can be just as draining if they are not grounded.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Aaron, thanks for commenting. You make some very good points. Life events can turn us toxic for a while. I think, the first step is to become aware of it and not stay there too long. Some of it may be natural or healthy even?

      I agree with that you those ungrounded, ignorantly positive people can be just as detrimental as negative people…and as annoying. I don’t think people would even refer to me as an optimist. I see, even that, as being attached to an outcome. I, personally, want to surround myself with people that are open to whatever unfolds. I want to surround myself with people who see the possibilities and creative solutions and encourage me to live consciously and to continue learning…and hopefully I can return the favor.

  4. Ande Waggener Reply

    Great analogy, Debbie!! You’re so right that negativity can be caught like a virus. Like you, I used to be a very negative “drama queen,” and it’s been interesting that as I changed the way I interact with my world, all the people who used to join me in my “chain of pain” have naturally left my life (except my parents–who still challenge me with their negativity–but I’m getting better at letting it roll around me).

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      I think this way of thinking and reacting is unconsciously taught to us by society, by our parents, and even by schools.. I know mine was. I hope we can teach the next generation differently.

      I just naturally shed those people too. Family, of course, is still around. We have formed new relationships as I made it clear I would no longer participate in pity party thinking. I find myself saying “I prefer to think of it as…” a lot.

  5. Hi Debbie,

    That’s a very interesting study from the University of Michigan on the differences between talking pleasantly and competitively. I noticed this myself today when I received a group email from someone who started off “Dear Hearts”, which he sincerely meant. I started smiling right away. The energy of his whole email was uplifting. Just being pleasant can make a huge difference. I don’t necessarily want to give up on emotional vampires altogether though. They need love too!

    I really appreciate your dedication to being positive and surrounding yourself with positivity. May it radiate out and benefit the whole world!

  6. Debbie Hampton Reply

    It is amazing how the smallest act of caring, positivity or kindness can effect someone else. It truly is a ripple effect.

    Conversely, the same goes for negativity. Good point about not giving up on the emotional vampires. They need some contagious positiveness!

  7. When I wasn’t so strong emotionally, I would find that it was easy for me to be affected by people who exude negative energy. And so I sought to focus on myself and did not make extra effort to meet up with some of such friends.

    However, now that I am better able to handle them, I will say yes to their invites for tea or coffee. I recognize their need to air their grievances because I have been once in their shoes. I just make sure that I shield myself energetically before meeting them.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      I do think we have a certain responsibility to be with those who do have a “less than” attitude to model better ways to think and to help lift them up. The key is top be aware of their energy as you are.

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