The Art of Emotional Self-Defense

Some people you can count on to make you feel better just about any time you happen to bump into them somewhere. Not because they’re always bubbly and just brimming over with sunshine, lollipops and rainbows. It’s something more solid than that. They truly are generally positive and occasionally downright cheerful. They’ll be genuinely interested in how you are and mostly glad to see you. And sure enough, whether you just smile and greet each other in passing or spend a few minutes catching up, you’ll feel better. You’re glad to know such folks and might even think, “I should be more like that myself.”

I’ve found it helps me be more like those people if I make a deliberate effort to quit focusing on the lousy, unpleasant stuff. I seem to feel better and behave better when I spend more time thinking about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable. You know, stuff that is excellent or praiseworthy. (I stole that list from an old Jewish tentmaker.)

When I do the opposite, it’s easy to become one of those people you can count on to bring you down even on the sunniest days. In fact, that appears to be their mission in life. Seems they just can’t help themselves. They can’t carry on a conversation for more than a minute without complaining about something or somebody, criticizing the weather or the way things are done or griping about their boss or the people they supervise. Their own personal misery is so great the only way they can cope with it is by spreading it around to others. Spend a while with them and you feel like you need an emotionally cleansing shower if not a full-on decontamination by professionals wearing industrial grade HazMat suits.

My own personal recommendation is to spend as little time as possible in the Mental HazMat Zone. When you have to be around them, keep it as brief as possible. And do not, in any circumstance, reinforce the viral misery. When they complain about a situation, ask them what they are doing to make it better. When they gripe about a process, ask them what their recommendation is for improving it. When they criticize someone else, say “Why that’s rather surprising; I’ve always found that person to be constantly trying to do the best they can with what they have to work with.” Pause then, and look them right in the eye and say, “Here, use my phone and call that person right now and show them how they can do better.”

Do this consistently for three or eight weeks and you’ll find that you don’t have to use that emotional disinfectant nearly as much. Those people will either change their behavior around you or else they’ll start avoiding you as if you were well known to be a persistent conveyor of contagious positiveness.

Meanwhile, I’ll be working on trying to be more positive and pleasant myself. Otherwise, just use my own advice against me. We’ll both be the better for it.

H. Arnett

About Doc Arnett

Native of southwestern Kentucky currently living in Ark City, Kansas, with my wife of twenty-nine years, Randa. We have, between us, eight children and twenty-eight grandkids. We enjoy singing, worship, remodeling and travel.
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