When living with grief, avoid negative and difficult people

Posted1/4/2020 6:00 AM

In grief, we are vulnerable. We are trying to figure out how to manage without our beloved spouse, parent or friend. So it is important to avoid complaining or negative people and the problems they cause. They may be "friends" or relatives. Yet, red alert! Danger zone.

In general, one should not be around such people, whether bereaved or not, and certainty not at a time like this. This may be true even years later.


I keep my radar out at all times, even seven years later. Actually, people with long-term grief need to keep their guard up forever. Being in the company of negativity is unhealthy.

There are people who feed on emotional problems and turmoil. They seem to enjoy other people's unhappiness and conflict, and often create or add to it. This could be a neighbor or someone you've known for years through a church or group you attend and otherwise enjoy. Listening to a constant barrage of "ain't it awful" and criticism is a drag on your spirit.

Just be alert and protect yourself. Sometimes such people latch on to the bereaved, the divorced, or people with other life challenges. Just cut them off. It's like mentally drawing down a shade or creating a mental barrier. Don't talk or spend time with them. Find something else to do.

How to deal with difficult people is a related issue but a little different problem. By difficult, I mean behaviors such as being rude, unthoughtful, overly critical -- basically not nice. And it's complicated because at times they are sweet and even helpful, at other times unpleasant and hurting. Usually arguing or confrontation doesn't work very well.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service

Once again, you need to cultivate some self-protection.

Being nice is a value in northern Minnesota where I was raised. There is a lot to be said for it. It doesn't mean you have to be naive or be run over. Just try to be pleasant. My brother Nic, who lived his whole life and career in northern Minnesota, was a great role model for these values and behaviors. He sometimes had to remind me of these principles. He was a good influence.

People there were raised not to criticize and to be tolerant and accepting. Everyone's business is their own business, so to say. There are some amusing books about "talking Minnesotan." One of the phrases is "Whatever." It means: it's not worth arguing about, or I don't really care about this. It's a useful phrase.

So, when bad behavior happens in the office, the church or organization, your best bet is to fight fire with fire. Instead of a personal argument, appeal to the "higher powers" or values within the organization. It's the best way to contain bad behavior. The group will help corral the offender. If the problem is in the neighborhood or family, it's a little different. Then you may just need to cut someone off and no longer see them very much.

I don't mean everything must be cheerful and rose-colored. We must deal with life's legitimate problems, but no one should be subjected to a steady diet of complaining, negativity, criticism and difficult people.


The point is, when coping with grief, we need to develop positive activities and outlooks. The person who can create self-protection is you. I've had to do this a few times in my life and have succeeded. One was a relative.

So take this in your own hands and take care of your own well-being. It's a good way to begin the new year.

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a doctorate in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at sakhleif@comcast.net or see her blog longtermgrief.tumblr.com. See previous columns at www.dailyherald.com/topics/Anderson-Kleif-Susan.

Go to comments: 0 posted
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.