Let’s face it, working alongside people who are cynical, distrustful, complaining and full of pessimism inevitably begins to take its toll. Those around us affect our moods, so if we mix in cheery, optimistic and motivational settings it rubs off, and there is science to prove it. During the 1990s Italian researchers discovered a particular group of neurons in the brain they called mirror neurons. These particular neurons appear to tune us into the feelings, experiences and even intentions of other people. We wince when we see a person drop a heavy object on their toes, we become excited or sad when engrossed in a movie and we maybe decline the taste of something because we’ve just watched another person gag in disgust. These are a few examples of how mirror neurons work and how they can affect our emotions and behavior.
Givers and takers
Some people light up a room when they enter and others seem to drag dark clouds behind them. We all have it in us to be givers and takers - it really depends on what’s happening in life. Part of the human condition is to respond sympathetically to those in need, but need and neediness are somewhat different so it can be helpful to learn some skills in managing the more negatively contagious emotions.
Managing negative emotions
Social interaction is important and following from my previous point it’s good to show sympathy and support but important not to be drawn into other people’s misery.
Where possible keep clear of the takers and spend more time with the givers – you know who they are* Your work and social networks are equally important so make sure you consider both as important. Common to both should be a sense of trust and mutual positive regard. This will build up your energy reserves rather than depleting them.
Where it’s impossible to avoid toxic connections try not to take them personally. See them for what they are and don’t find faults in yourself based on other people’s negative behavior or attitudes towards you.
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Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.