Just Keep Swimming

Being Positive About Negative Relationships: My Latest Step in My Journey to Be Better


I've written a lot about positive thinking and mental health this past year. Managing depression and anxiety was a real thing for me even before Covid became one of the biggest news stories in my lifetime. But the world altering pandemic made depression and anxiety major talking points for many people that never really gave such things much thought before. It has definitely been amplified in my own life and forced me to plunge into positive thinking strategies in order to have the energy to be a husband, father and professional writer -- with hopes that I could garner enough to also be good at all three.

One of the obvious big factors in mental health is our relationships. I don't just mean with loved ones and family, but our interactions and perceptions of every person in our lives, be it in-person or online or media. It wasn't until I really started immersing myself into positive thinking strategies that the light bulb went off on how important our relationships and how we perceive them can be for mental health.

While Covid has done a very effective job on spotlighting how important social gatherings and spending time with others is for good mental health; I have learned that how we decide to perceive and react to other people even when they aren't actually interacting with us at that moment is crucial as well.

As someone whose mind is constantly bouncing off walls and spewing out ideas at a rapid pace, I've learned it is vital to have control over my thoughts about others. Especially since at times it can shift towards the darkness and be an all-consuming negative presence. I've allowed people to control my behaviour and emotions without them even directly doing anything to me at that moment.

There are certain people in this world that we just can't connect. Or if we are willing to be brutally honest, we just don't like and while maybe we can be civil with them, we won't ever really enjoy their company. Then there are others that maybe we can like for a period but after those ten or twenty minutes expire, we suddenly remember that we really need to go outside to count the blades of grass on our property. They just won't ever bring the warm fuzzies when you see them.

But we can have control over how that person affects us and how much we allow them to control our thoughts.

I confess that there have been a few people in my life that I've got a panic attack when they've called my house or I've allowed my interaction with them to turn me into Oscar the Grouch for the remainder of the day, even though I only saw them for 2 minutes. 

The unfortunate thing is that these specific people have had such a negative impact on me that I've found myself taking too many opportunities to complain about something they did to me or how I am angry about what they did to someone that I love. At the time, I trick myself into thinking these rage rantings will be cathartic, but mostly I am just dumping a stew of negativity all over myself that burns into my soul and attitude for the rest of the day or week or month or maybe even year.

Sometimes there isn't much value in confronting these people. I find myself exploding in record time and clearly the nasty history is too much to resolve things now. Maybe one day things can be healed, because miracles can happen, but for now, there are better strategies.

I definitely discovered pretty quick that gossiping or complaining or internally venting over them does not lead to the land of raining Skittles and dancing unicorns either. It just churns out vile toxic waste. It makes me more miserable. It opens me up to extended battles with depression or anxiety. It builds that person up as an unrelenting monster that poisons all my thoughts and feelings.

I discovered a new way to purge the negativity created by obsessing over someone that I don't like. I also have realized a much healthier way to have a conversation about them. 

The first step is to humanize the person. To remember that they are a person just like me. That is the key part. Just like me. For the most part, everyone has something in common. It may be as simple as both having a desire to be loved by someone. Or that we both like having a coffee in the morning. But there are things, even if very small, that can connect us all.

The person who is driving me nuts and making me angry and miserable is still a person. Just like me.

Once I've decided they aren't the kraken, the major move is to make a proactive decision in how to think and talk about them. Obviously, the negative part of their personality will zoom to the front of my mind and lips, but I choose how to handle this thought.

I've decided to turn it into self-reflection. Rather than continue to think about this person with this glaring and infuriating flaw, I try to figure out why is it that I hate this action or behaviour so much and is it something that I have done or am doing. How can I make sure that I don't treat other people this way or even more importantly, if I am being honest and deep enough, have I treated anyone this way? I spend more time on what can I learn from the things that stir up negativity and how can I turn that around into making myself a better person.

When the conversation steers toward being about this person who just recently did something that I deem horrible, the goal needs to be to make the conversation not about them but rather how can we make sure we don't act this way. Or why are such actions or behaviour so detrimental? Why does this behaviour bother us so much and what causes people to behave that way? Are we making sure to live in a way that we can avoid behaving that way? Could something good come from this action or are the intentions sincere and good? Does that behaviour sometimes have value?

In this journey to be a more positive person, I'm trying to focus less on how much a person may drive me nuts and rather try to look at what could cause that behaviour, what is it about them that bothers me, and how can I learn to be a better person from them. I feel it has led to me not being consumed in negativity and toxicity.

Instead, I try to humble myself and recognize that there is a good chance that certain behaviour drives me crazy because I'm projecting. I am ashamed that some of that is in me. I need to try to work harder to be a more loving, caring, compassionate, and genuine person.

It isn't just the negative behaviour that can consume me and drag me down. Sometimes it is positive and successful things. Because when great things happen to other people, the festering beast known as jealousy comes out to play.

As a writer who is trying to grow his freelance writing business, but also trying to grow an audience for this site and The Movie Breakdown podcast, social media has become essential. I admit that I am not that good at it. I need to become far more consistent. But I mostly use social media to build an audience for this site and my business -- which is my writing.

Sometimes the dangerous game of comparison is played, and I look at some friends who appear to use social media just for recreational purpose. There doesn't seem to be an attempt to grow an audience to further their career or business but rather it is just casual fun and entertainment for them. It becomes even more disheartening and discouraging when I notice their followers dwarf what I've been able to grow.

The kicker is when I try to craft something thoughtful or entertaining that could attract an audience and hopefully steer them towards my writing or this site, and I'll get some likes or even some shares, but the numbers I achieve don't come close to the friend who gets a hundred likes just for posting that he is now adding a pickle to his ham sandwich. 

I have often got so frustrated and discouraged that the link to a post that I spent hours on didn't get anywhere close to the attention of a person who is declaring they are in the drive-thru of a Tim Hortons. It starts making me question if I have any hope of success in this career. Do I have what it takes to get an audience? Does anyone care what I write?

Of course, when I get in this mood then I'm ignoring the fact that I know that I have readers who were complete strangers that I've never met in my life and only follow my site or listen to the podcast because they must like what I do. Over the past year, I've got several nice comments and emails from people who I've never met telling me how much a certain article meant to them and how much they love my writing.

But I push all that positivity away, because a picture of someone goofily smiling beside a tuna melt got more likes than anything that I've ever created.

I've also found myself becoming obsessed with the success of some pop culture and movie writers. Some of them I adore and others that I don't think are good writers. But all of them have a large readership. And they make a decent to very good living entirely off their own sites. I get frustrated because I start questioning what makes them so much better than me? Or start believing that they must be thousand times the writer that I ever could be because they have enough followers that they can make significant money from sponsors and ads.

Once again, I find myself being consumed by specific people. The worst part when it comes to the innocent friend who is nailing it at social media, I find myself resenting them. I get very angry, I get depressed. I question why I ever thought I could make it as a writer. Then I get bitter that they seem more successful at something that I should be rocking if I was any good at my job.

Then I realize that I am angry at people that aren't even aware of what they are doing, and more importantly, are not trying to affect me in anyway. There success doesn't do anything to harm my own. If anything, it is hope for me.

In my journey to have positive thinking guide my life, I realize that instead of being jealous that instead I should celebrate the success of my friend on social media or the writer with a huge readership. I should be happy for them. I should be proud.

The big reason is that being jealous has never led to me having a great day but being excited for somebody puts me in a better mood.

But also, I should see it as motivation. If they can attract a huge following on social media or if a writer's site is making lots of money thanks to sponsors due to their large readership, then it is a sign that it can be done. I should see them as the encouragement and motivation for my success. I should hold them up as proof that my dreams can become reality.

Now, I don't want to trick you into thinking that people don't upset me anymore or that I don't struggle with jealousy. It is all still there. But I am trying to focus on the positives. I am trying to look at various situations and then reflect on how that can make me a better person. How I can use these experiences and feelings to bring more goodness and value into the world.

I'm seeking to be more positive. I am seeking to be more appreciative. I am seeking to be more grateful for every relationship that I have in my life. Everyone brings something of worth on this crazy journey.

I have no idea if any of this is the least bit helpful for anyone. I often feel like this is weird stuff and feelings that only I wrestle with, and I am just revealing what a messed up person that I am. But any time that I am honest like this. I hear from a few people that reveal that they struggle too and that they are appreciative that I was so honest about it.

Hopefully, this had value for somebody. Meanwhile, I am going to keep being appreciative and positive about all the relationships in my life.

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