Question: My family is currently dealing with my grandfather's constant negativity. We all try to spend time with him but it takes its toll hearing him complain about every little thing. He even got into an argument with my younger cousin about family issues. When we say he's being negative or cranky, he denies it or makes excuses. What can we do to curb his negativity or make it easier to be around him?
Dr. Amy: Some extraordinary people, despite age, misfortune, and ill health manage to face life bravely, remain positive, and bring joy to those around them. It’s always an inspiration to be with these people, or learn of their stories. On the other hand, people who are very negative tend to be fearful and inwardly focused. It is tiring and unpleasant to be with them. Since it is unlikely that you can change your grandfather’s nature, the question remains how best to respond.
Here are six suggestions:
Fix what can be fixed. Sometimes, complaining is a sign that something else is bothering a person. Is your grandfather in pain? Is something uncomfortable? Does something in his environment need to be adjusted? If something needs to be fixed, do your best to fix it.
Consider whether there is an underlying health problem or a mental health issue. It is quite common for people with chronic health conditions (like heart disease, diabetes, arthritis) to suffer from depression. Some health conditions are life-altering. When we are no longer able to take part in fun activities and no longer able to live independently, a deep sadness and depression can set in. I encourage you to talk to the doctor if you think this is a possibility.
Listen with compassion. Being full of fear and negativity is a terrible burden. I think it shows kindness to let your grandfather express his fears and irritations. To a point.
Maintain your own positive energy. Do not engage in argument. Rather than trying to extinguish his negative energy, focus on making your positive energy bigger. Sometimes when faced with something difficult, I list all of the things that are working well and for which I feel grateful. There are literally hundreds. By focusing on positive things in your life—and his—your positive energy and gratitude can overpower his negativity. You might share this strategy with your grandfather. While it may help him gain perspective on his situation, I caution you not to have high expectations.
Help him experience beauty. Whenever I get the chance to get out of the city and enjoy a walk in the forest, I am deeply nourished by the beauty of nature. I do not know how mobile you and your grandfather are, but I encourage you to think of the ways, large and small, that you can help him get out of his head and take in something inspiring.
Take breaks. It sounds like you and your family are on the right path already in this regard since you are taking turns with your visits. I encourage you to limit the amount of time you spend with your grandfather in one sitting, since it can be very tiring to be with someone who is unrelenting in their negativity.
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