Who’s in Your Pack?

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This may be a familiar situation for you:

You’re at work, humming along, and a co-worker of yours sidles up. Let’s call him Grumpy George. George is wearing that hangdog expression again—the one that tells you, without a word having been spoken, that you’re about to be bowled over by a litany of complaints. Seems that no matter how good things are, Grumpy George can only see the negative—though his recent project was a success, his boss didn’t specifically praise his contributions. Oh, and the K-cup coffee maker in the break room? Totally out of his favorite brew.

“Figures,” he says. “Things are always like this.”

This behavior of habitual complaining—whether it’s driven by low self-esteem or the ugly blowback of depression—can not only bum you out, it can actually have a more prolonged effect on your psyche.

Some researchers call this subconscious transfer of negative thinking “emotional contagion”—which makes it sound like a fright-flick about global disease outbreak … and that’s not too far off the mark.

“Because marriages, partnerships, family connections, and even close friendships are largely based on emotions, any sadness, fear, or worry on the part of that other person in your life (child, parent, domestic partner, best friend) can have a profound and lasting impact on your overall mood and outlook on life,” reports Psychology Today.

So how do we know who’s toxic or not? And what do we do about it?

Common traits of the persistent pessimist

These traits may seem self-explanatory—it’s pretty obvious that selfishness is a negative trait—but sometimes in order to put situations in perspective, we need to remind ourselves of the evident.

Unpredictable, fluctuating moods

This is similar to what we’d call “mood swings,” which can be a normal facet of life. But with truly pessimistic people, these mood shifts are entirely unpredictable and misunderstood by even those experiencing them. Like that time Grumpy George freaked out about the K-cup debacle: his mood was soured all day long, even after someone went on a coffee run.


Any number of synonyms will do here: petty, cranky, bitter, trivial.


Procrastination falls under this personality trait, as well as forgetfulness, inefficiency and neglect. This is an oppositional trait, meaning that its purpose is to fight but appear pacified.


This is where things get ugly—and abrasiveness may be the easiest personality trait to pick out of a lineup. Like when Grumpy George laid into the receptionist, flinging nasty, childish insults, and then walking away as though he was in the right.

It’s worth nothing that those definitions were pulled from a diagnostic criteria that has a name you might recognize: passive-aggressive personality disorder.

Fight the rising tide of cynicism

Cynical behavior is sort of like a cold: spend too long surrounded by the sick and eventually you’ll start coughing, too. This is the true underlying danger of people like Grumpy George: as much as you may disdain his outlook, if you hear it every single day, five days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, eventually you might find yourself looking at the world through rain-streaked lenses.

Hence the importance of understanding who’s in your pack. Who do you surround yourself with? How might their outlooks be influencing your behavior? You may think of yourself as far too independent to fall trap to another person’s crankiness—and you’re probably right!—but even the most unique and individualistic people are fallible by the company they keep.

The most obvious suggestion would be to prune these people from your life. But what if Grumpy George happens to be your husband, or your son? Or you?

Try being supportive

It might be hard—in fact, it’s likely at times to be excruciating—but people laden with this kind of heavy gloom are likely in need of support, which might explain why their grievances are so publicly aired to begin with: they want to be heard; they feel that they’re not.

Know your limits

There also comes a time in a passive-aggressive relationship that calls for tough love. It can be detrimental to your psychological health if you’re constantly taking care of someone else, sacrificing your self-interests to elevate another’s self-esteem. Drawing a line in the sand and declaring to someone you love and respect is difficult (and its own blog post for another time) but sometimes, it’s the only way to get through—and to protect yourself from becoming a Grumpy George spinoff (perhaps a Negative Nancy?).

What do you think? This sort of topic can get heady and complicated, as it deals with powerful emotions. What’s helped you discover and deal with negative people? Has being supportive worked for you, or have you used other methods of getting through?

Leave your thoughts in the comments section—we’d love to hear from you! And as always, if you’re struggling with a situation like this, you can always reach out to Proactive Risk Solutions’ life and health coaches. Just call 866-816-0741 or email our coaches to set up a meeting.

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