QUIT: Trying to “Save” People Who Prefer to Remain Miserable

[Part of my mission to “live deliberately” involves ruthlessly cutting out anything that saps my time, energy or money to no good end.  I’m calling these things my “Quits,” and this is one of the many items that have found themselves on my Quits List.]


Lately, my eye has started twitching again.

In fact, as I write this, it’s going on one hell of a twitchy bender (probably because I’m thinking about this topic). It’s very good at letting me know when I’ve let situations get out of hand.

This lovely spasm hasn’t returned for the same reasons it did before. This time, it’s thanks to my office — specifically, the negative vibes that funk up the atmosphere of my office, and my herculean efforts to dispel them, which only result in my feeling more negative.

Remember in Ghostbusters 2 when they realize the goo they’re studying feeds off the energy of whatever it’s around? (Specifically, I’m thinking of the scene this amazing dancing toaster scene, because that is the best scene in the movie, IMO.) Well, I am like that goo.

I’m super-sensitive to the moods of the people around me. If I try engaging with a toxic mood — even with the best of intentions — I usually wind up absorbing it. And lately, I’m beginning to realize that, as much as I want to try to “help” Eeyores and Sludgers and grumps, sometimes it’s best to put my shields up and move on. Sometimes I need to learn to Live and Let Live As Grumpily As They Please.


A Girl Can Only Do So Much

I can’t help it; any time I’m faced with a crap attitude, my adrenaline starts pumping. I’m a bloodhound for statements that reek of The Way Things Are. And whenever I pick up the scent of one, my first instinct is to strike — to say or do something that will counteract it, will prove it wrong, will make it look ridiculous.

Not in a pushy, have-you-found-Jesus pamphleteer sort of way, but just to inject a little optimism to disperse the bad vibes, to nudgingly imply or demonstrate that there might be another way of looking at things.

OK, OK. Sometimes I go beyond nudging. Sometimes, truth be told, I find myself seized by a perverse, almost combative Pollyanna personality when a shitty attitude really gets under my skin. Sometimes I just want to annoy the hell out of it, although I’m trying to learn to check that impulse. For the most part, I just try my best to demonstrate — by my words, by my actions, by my own way of going about life — that shitty attitudes are completely worthless and counterproductive.

I try to laugh about the silly annoyances that make other people bemoan the way the world is against them. (The copier has jammed. You have not just lost your entire family Job-style.)

I try to take the inadvertent hassles that come with working with other people in stride. (No, Secretary A never does answer her phone. That does not mean she’s a freeloader or that you are a saint because you have less work to do and answer your phone before the first ring ends.)

I try to never sigh, or mutter under my breath, or remark on the way things “always” or “never” happen a certain (inevitably unfair) way. (It’s 4:59 and AGAIN someone has handed you a last-minute fax to send? Welcome to the way this office has always worked. Get over it or start scanning the classifieds.)

But there’s only so much you can do to thwart attitudes that are decades ingrained. Some people don’t want to be un-miserable. Some people find purpose in imagining themselves the martyr. Some people get off on judging others, and blaming others, and then muttering about the way no one notices their efforts. Some people have built up such a mental wall of anger and disgruntlement and pessimism that any attempt to point out that life doesn’t entirely suck falls on ears that have willingly been made deaf.

So be it. You can’t save ’em all.


Put On Your Hazmat Suit; Get The Hell Out of Dodge

I don’t like to be making this Quit. It seems anti-Cordelian. But sometimes you can’t help everyone. And wasting your energy trying to do so will only bring you down, too.

Even Anne Shirley herself (Cordelia Numero Uno) couldn’t reach everybody. Book after book, she skips through people’s lives and makes even the grumpiest of grumps softer, kinder and more optimistic simply by being her own infectiously-in-love-with-life self. But still, in every book, there are always a few people whose stormcloud shells even the Anneish philosophy can’t penetrate.

There’s the aunt who spends her niece’s entire wedding weekend foreboding things like, “I only hope the pianist doesn’t drop dead in the middle of the wedding march like at Eliza Wood’s wedding.” There’s the bitter, selfish old widow whose poor daughter has given up her whole life to take care of her, yet who still insists on moaning about how “No one will miss me when I’m gone” and “Don’t mind me; I can just sit in this chill and catch pneumonia, it’s no matter.” There’s the pinch-faced old cousin who comes to supper and responds to every bit of local good news (weddings, births, travels) with premonitions of such doom and gloom, such death and diphtheria, that eventually everyone stops attempting to make conversation with her at all.

Anne remains her Anneish self in spite of these grumps, being cheery and optimistic because that’s just the way she is, but ultimately she knows better than to waste her breathe trying to rescue them. I’m sure she’s sad about that, but she’s also wise enough to realize that if someone’s intent on living under a cloud, that’s where they’re going to live.

Which is the way I need to start approaching things with people who’ve proven they prefer to stay cloud-darkened. I’m done actively keeping my radar out for their every crap attitude so I can try to mend it or save them from it. Because all that does is turn me into the Ghostbusters goo, waiting to pounce on and absorb any bad energy that happens my way rather than actively going about living my own awesome life. And there are plenty more people out there who DO want to be happier; I should be focusing my energies on them.


When someone has a meltdown because the copier is broken again, I will turn around and quietly leave the copy room until the fumes have lifted.

When someone gets into a huff about how no one in the office is doing their job, I will serenely continue grooving along with my Pandora radio, enjoying as much as I can a job I don’t like because, hell, I’m here, so why be any more miserable about it than I need to be?

When someone makes the millionth complaint about circumstances they can change (or circumstances they can’t, for that matter), I will exercise my own selective deafness and continue to design my amazing life and amazing self as amazingly as I can.

And I won’t care whether they notice or not.

Strike that. I will still care. I can’t help it. But I will stop letting it get to me.

Image: ohlittleheart / Flickr

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  • I can totally relate to this! I’ve found it really hard to separate myself from other people’s misery too, but it can be done. You just have to be a tiny bit selfish for your own mental wellbeing 🙂

    • That is SO true. I think secretly I was feeling like it *was* selfish–like since I know there is hope and life doesn’t totally suck, it’s my duty to try to help other people see that. Letting go (or “giving up”) on anyone feels like I’m not doing my Cordelian duty.

      But you’re right–in order to keep my philosophy in tact, and keep myself strong enough to continue spreading it to the people who DO want to listen, sometimes I need to be a little selfish. That whole “you can’t take care of other people unless you take care of yourself” thing…

  • Kelly aka Cordelia: We don’t always notice how we affect others in the moment. Or, put another way, often the positive effect of our behavioral choices on others doesn’t occur immediately but over time. You might be doing more positive than you realize. You just can’t see it yet. The forest for the trees thing.

    You echo Buddhist sentiments about remaining in the moment and surrounding yourself with the people with whom you want to be; positive, good people who don’t suck the life from you.
    We are what we are and if assholes around you sap your energy because you are positive you might have to acknowledge that they suck and you don’t. Give yourself a moment to be Ghostbusters goo. Then hightail it out of that spot and hang out above ground with the lighter people.

    Be who you are. You basically rock anyway.


    • I love that point–that even if it looks like we’re not getting through, we may have no idea what kind of seeds we’re planting in people’s minds. I may need to use that for a future post…in fact…just wrote it down in my future posts file. 🙂

  • Brittany Hassell

    Oh, my god, this is SO TRUE. Someone who I have to spend a few hours a week with is completely grumpy the entire time. He doesn’t even greet me, say good-bye to me, or even talk to me at all while I’m there. In the beginning I thought he didn’t like me (which, maybe he really doesn’t), but I spoke with his wife and she said he’s just busy. Apparently, busy also means that you can’t be a decent person who is polite. It has taken me a long time to try and get over this. Some days I do better than others at ignoring him and being very nice if I do have to interact with him. I hope that someday I don’t need to go to this place at all as often as I do, but until then I try and stay in my happy place for four hours at a time.

    • Doesn’t it absolutely suck that some people can’t handle stress without making everyone around them miserable? It’s not only the weak way out; it’s selfish, incredibly rude, and only makes the person more miserable too. I’m willing to bet if he tried to smile or make a joke once in a while he’d find his “busyness” much less miserable to experience. (And his poor wife! I can only imagine what it’s like to LIVE with him!)

      My heart goes out to you having to deal with him on a regular basis. It can be so wearing to be in an atmosphere of grump like that for several hours. Put up your shields, imagine the grump bouncing off your force field of inner happiness and optimism, and then shake it all off the instant you leave. I am totally feeling for you!

      • Brittany Hassell

        It’s funny you mention putting up a shield! Yesterday when I was there he was subtly rude to me in front of a customer and I just turned away and smiled because the whole situation is just so silly. Maybe this isn’t the best way to go about it, but I totally felt superior right then because I was above getting down to his level. (Jump up, jump up, and get down, Brittany!)

        I’ve also applied at a job that I feel like I have a pretty good chance of getting, which would be 20-30 hours a week. When I was at the first interview (yeah! being called back for a second interview in the next week, too!) I asked that if the job was a good fit for both me and the company if there would be more hours available in the future and if it ever would be closer to full time and the interviewer said YES. Hallelujah! I really do enjoy my job at some points and like what we sell and what we stand for, but then I’d rather just deal with ONE job that I like instead of one job that I like and would have fun at versus dealing with two jobs, one being one that I only like sometimes.

        • Good for you, girl! I love distancing myself from bad vibes by seeing how sheerly ridiculous they are. It’s an excellent way to sidestep them and put them into perspective.

          Best of luck to you with the new job opportunity! It sounds like you’re making the right choice for you and your happiness. I’ll be rooting for you!

          p.s. Extra points (and props) to you for the usage of a fantastic old skool hip hop reference. 🙂

          • Brittany Hassell

            Ha ha ha!! Thanks! It’s kind of a silly morning. ;o) I think the more I talk to people about how ridiculous my job can be, the better I feel about it. I go through phases where I REALLY like it, but then there is this other aspect, you know? I just think it would be better for me mentally overall to not have to deal with it. The awesome feeling I get when things are going good is just over-shadowed by the grump. Meh. If he’s not around I totally OWN my job and it’s awesome. I really wish I could have this job and not have to deal with certain people.

            Whine whine whine. Things are looking up!

  • Karen J

    Good Monday Morning! and Great Timing, as usual …

    I’m finding, to my chagrin, that other people’s “They always…” “It NEVER…” name-calling and negativity not only magnetically sucks-me-in (don’t want to call it “attractive” – Yikes!), it often gets back into *my* thoughts and speech, and I find myself echoing and reinforcing their ‘bad attitude’ instead of countering it, even passively. OMG! Who *is* that talking through my mouth??

    And then, I don’t actively beat-myself-up for falling into that hole again (I’m not ‘hearing myself’ do it, anyway), but I feel like crap for hours afterwards.

    Adding to my List of New Awarenesses (Quits): “Taking in other people’s angst or anger, even when I “can see their point” (especially then, ’cause that’s actually one of my SuperPowers!)” Thanks 🙂

    Bright Blessings for a lightened week, Dear Cordelia!

    • I am the same way, Karen. There are certain people I find myself slipping into certain attitudes around, because they mirror THEIR attitudes. There is a fine line between being able to genuinely empathize and actually taking on the other person’s mood. It’s something I struggle with daily.