Dealing with the “Negative Nancie’s” in our lives

I love the new terms this generation uses for certain things especially things like, “You’re such a Debbie Downer” or “Negative Nancy.” I just laugh every time I hear one of those comments.

What’s not funny is having to live with someone who is just that!

Whether it is a spouse, friend, family member or coworkers, it is always a challenge to remain positive in a negative society. Maybe it’s an elderly parent or loved one who may never have been negative their whole life and now that they are getting older or may even be experiencing some stage of dementia that may be altering their perception of things, it’s still so difficult being on the other side of these folks who continually drain you of your own hope and outlook in life.

Negative people tend to leave others around them drained, tired and lethargic. No matter what you say, they always seem to find a way to counter with a negative opinion. When they face a problem, they soak themselves in the issue rather than deal with it constructively. They adopt a self-victimizing mindset, complaining about whatever happens.

Even when you try to change the topic to something positive, they have a way to turn it into something negative. They are constantly fixated with the doom and gloom of (their) life. The old “somebody’s done me wrong” song. Everything is black; there is no white. In the event there is some element of positivity that enters their spectrum, they are quick to excuse that as a one-off encounter or see the dark side behind that.

To negative people, life just sucks. They remain in a “victim” mentality.


Here are a few things you can do when dealing with a negative, aging parent or loved one:

Allow them to express their negativity. The elderly often feel like their opinions and thoughts don’t matter. If you allow them to have their say without any retort, that will likely be the key that allows them to soften a bit.  You may not agree with what they have to say, but realizing that it isn’t a personal attack against you can alleviate a load of stress.

Here are a few more:

  • Practice being patient. Because they can’t do things on their own, they feel inclined to tell you exactly how to do it. Your position is that it will get done, regardless. Their position is that it won’t be done right unless you do it they way–the way they would’ve done it. Sometimes letting it go in one ear and out the other works here, and sometimes it doesn’t. In those instances where you feel ready to explode, it’s best to take a break, step outside for a few minutes and take deep, calming breaths. When you’ve cleared your mind, you can go back in with renewed energy and complete the task.
  • Smile often. It’s hard to smile during a time when you feel your efforts are in vain. Tuning out the negativity and thinking about a funny joke or something humorous your children have done can produce a genuine smile. This often works to stop the criticism and alleviate tension. When your parent sees you smiling, tell them the joke or story you were thinking about and have a good laugh together.
  • Go in with gusto! When you have mentally prepared yourself not to be stressed, you will be able to have more patience to deal with your parent. Go in talking about anything or everything. Talking about other things with you takes their mind off the bitterness and helplessness they feel. Ask what their opinions on different topics are. Ask them questions. Ask them to tell you stories about their life. This makes them feel useful, and gives them a feeling that they have something important to contribute.
  • Sometimes it is necessary to get away for a few days. Ask a close family member or a friend to take over for you for a few days. Take this time to spend with others or by yourself doing what you want to do. Take in a couple of movies and escape into fantasy for a while. Getting away every so often will give you a renewed sense of hope and allow you more patience to deal with your parents for another week or two.

I understand it can really be a drag and drain the life out of you if you allow their negativity to bring you down (believe me, I understand). But we must not allow their responses, words or actions to pull us in to their negative world.

The question is – “How do we continue to maintain our hope and sanity in the midst of negativity?”

Now mostly, I just laugh it off because it has become a habit or learned behavior on their part. I will not give in to that negative pattern and allow it to divert my course, even for a moment! I challenge you to do the same.

About Sue Salach

Sue has a Master's degree in Gerontology and has worked with the elderly and their families for over 30 years and is the Author of "Along Comes Grandpa", a caregiving resource guide, and the novel "If I Walked in Her Shoes". As an ElderCare Expert and Keynote Speaker, Sue employs her comprehensive experience and passion, to educate and promote self-care values to family caregivers and the community at large.
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6 Responses to Dealing with the “Negative Nancie’s” in our lives

  1. Sara says:

    Your post came in at a very opportune time for me. I just had a meltdown on my husband’s shoulder about my mother. She’s bossy, sanctimonious, and judgmental despite her inability to do things for herself. She treats my dad like crap because of things he can’t help. She also tells her children (+ spouses) how to do things, as well what and what not they’re able to do according to her ((uninformed) speculations. Is there any way to get her to see the light?

    I’m pretty sure not, as my mother is 80 and is not likely to rid herself of her baggage and martyrdom at this point. I do what I can to save myself from getting sucked in, but is there anything I can do to make their “golden years” more pleasant?


    • Sue Salach says:

      Unfortunately, you can’t change your mom, nor the way she looks at the world from a critical perspective. What you can do is listen to her, sometimes people just want to be heard. Empathize with her: this is not agreeing with her. When she complains about something, instead of trying to make her see things differently (which is an exercise in futility), you say something to the effect “that must be very frustrating for you”. Most importantly, show her love (in spite of the comments) & DON’T TAKE ANY OF IT PERSONALLY!! This is the hardest, but keep in mind, her criticism has NOTHING to do with you and EVERYTHING to do with her.. When you take a different perspective you might just see her as the hurting person that she is (Hurt people, hurt people, your mom didn’t start out this way.

      Thank you for all you do for others, especially those who make it difficult!


  2. Heidi says:

    You obviously haven’t dealt with my Mother, she is incredibly selfish. She abused me all my life, neglected me both physically and mentally as a child to the point she caused me permanent damage to my brain and body. All she does now is fixate on her “victim” mentality. At first there was a whole lot of guilt, then there was a whole lot of relief as I learned to distance myself. I now speak to her rarely and visit a few times a year. If the conversation on the phone is too much for me to take I just end the call. It’s taken me a long time to get to this place but others should know it is not ok to continue to let your parents abuse you, you teach people how to treat you and you deserve to be happy. My mother denies all harm both physical and mental she did to me even though my sibling was there when she did it, she has never apologized to me for the hell she put us all through. One therapist I had told me that I needed to go to a nursing home, find some lonely elderly person and become their friend. That giving my time to a mean spirited, selfish Mother was wasting time that could be spend with someone who is all alone and would love to have a daughter to visit them, relative or not.


    • Sue Salach says:

      I’m so sorry for what you went through with your mother. I agree that there are a lot of people out there who might not have visitors and would love to spend time with a caring companion. I hope you can get to a place where you can let go of the anger (as it only hurts you in the end) and focus on making YOU the priority! Take care of yourself.



  3. Light In Eye says:

    It is always difficult to get knowledgeable people with this issue, nevertheless, you be understood as you understand exactly what you are posting about! Appreciate it.


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