Have you ever felt like someone else’s negativity was contagious? It’s not your imagination. One study found that teenagers who had negative friends noticed that their moods worsened over time, a process called “social contagion.”

It’s even more difficult if you’re a sensitive person. Empathy is an admirable quality, but it makes you prone to taking on other people’s emotions. It doesn’t sound like such a bad thing if those emotions are happy or positive, but negative, unpleasant feelings are just as contagious–and they could threaten your recovery.

Your support system is one of the most important assets you can have in recovery. You need to be sure you’re surrounding yourself with positive, uplifting, encouraging people who support you and your recovery–not letting other people’s negativity impact you. These tips will help you keep your positivity intact.

Acknowledge the negativity.

If you feel yourself getting caught up in a cycle of negativity, recognize it. Being aware of your state of negativity is a significant advantage because you see it; therefore you can fix it. When you catch yourself in a funk, make a conscious effort to change the narrative.

Be prepared.

If you know you’re about to see someone who’s negative, prepare yourself beforehand. Give yourself a quick pep talk. You’re going to see this person. They’re probably going to be upset and cynical, but you will refuse to take on their emotions. Remember that you choose how you feel. Understanding this will give you more perspective in your interactions, and you’ll be able to decide not to let their negativity affect you.

Steer the conversation in the right direction.

Let the person vent for a few minutes, then change direction. If it feels like they’re complaining nonstop and you’re silently nodding your head along, you’re only reinforcing their behavior. Change the subject by asking them about a shared interest you have or what good things are going on in their life.

This advice stands for smaller hiccups, but if your friend is going through something more serious, then you should let them talk about their feelings as much as they need to.

Set boundaries.

When you’re wrapped up in other people’s drama, it’s easy to neglect yourself, and there’s only so much you can give before you start feeling worn out. If you find yourself feeling drained after your interactions, take some time apart. It’s not mean. It’s self-care. You’re taking time for yourself, and it could ultimately help your relationship.

Express gratitude.

Positive well-being starts by expressing gratitude for what you have. In addition to improving your outlook, a consistent gratitude practice offers numerous physical, psychological and social benefits. Make a concerted effort to shift your mindset by being appreciative of the things you have instead of dwelling on the things you don’t. At this moment, you likely have a lot to be grateful for: your family, friends, health, sobriety, etc. Say thanks for it.

Be kind to yourself.

When you’re in a bad mood, it’s easy to beat yourself up and keep piling on the negativity. Be nice to yourself. Give yourself a compliment. Take time for yourself. Meditate, journal, meet up with a friend you haven’t seen in a while, and respect yourself.

Ask yourself if this is someone you want in your life.

You should seriously consider whether or not you want to continue spending time with someone who only seems to be bringing negativity into your life. Ending a relationship with a friend or family member may seem a little extreme, but sometimes it’s necessary. Determine how much the relationship means to you and if it’s worth maintaining.

Your mindset matters. Being mindful of your relationships and feelings is such an important skill, and knowing which relationships are mutually beneficial is critical to your recovery. Counseling can help you examine your relationships from a new perspective. At Guardian IOP, our outpatient programs can help you cultivate your relationship with yourself and establish a stronger support system for your recovery. Contact us for more information about our programs.


Reviewed for accuracy by:

Anna earned her Masters of Social Work at Barry University in Miami, FL in 2017 and completed her internship in co-occurring disorders. Anna has a Bachelors of Art in Religious Studies from Naropa University and is a certified yoga and meditation instructor. Anna has received specialized training in somatic counseling with an emphasis on body-centered psychotherapy.