A reader recently wrote and asked me this question:

"How can a person have high self esteem when living with the negative energy of a partner? How can one keep oneself strong or respond differently?"

My response documents 3 key steps to take that we can all use to help improve any dysfunctional interactions.

Firstly I would say that if there is any abusive or violent nature to your situation then you must seek professional help - either as a couple or at least just for you alone. You don't deserve to experience this and a professional counselor can definitely help.

From the little I know so far, here is my response, I hope it helps you.

I would approach this in 3 ways.

  1. Breaking "The More, The More" pattern

  2. "Taking the wind out of the sails"

  3. Creating a personal linked negative-to-positive state change

Step 1. Breaking "The More, The More" pattern.

There is usually a reactive loop to these situations - especially so in close partner-relationships and longer term relationships.

Over time, we learn to 'react' in a certain way to the other person and it is difficult to change. It becomes an automatic, pre-programmed responses.

Eventually this escalates, and so "the more the other person does 'X' (something specific)", "the more I do 'Y' (my specific response)" and "The more I do 'Y' ... the more they do 'X' again ..." and so on until one feels like exploding.

We must find a way to break this vicious circle.

Without placing the 'blame' on you, here is something to consider: "For things to change, first I must change". This seems to be a philosophy you are OK with given that you are asking for advice on "how to respond differently".

So we are going to change your automatic response to your mate's negative energy.

I want you to imagine that your partner, along with their most annoying/upsetting/frustrating negative energy are up on a theater stage in front of you, behind a pair of curtains.

In a moment the curtains will open and you will see them behaving negatively (in the way that you want to change your reaction to).

But first you will decide how you will see/hear them differently.

When the curtains open, I want you to make them appear visually different (in your mind's eye).

  • Maybe tiny like a mouse ( = no power)
  • Maybe in slow motion (= giving you time to think)
  • Maybe constantly running around in circles confused ( = trivializing their approach)
  • Maybe totally bright pink ( = you can't associate this image of them with negativity)

Now hear them in your own mind differently.

  • Maybe speaking all squeaky ( = they can't possibly be serious)
  • Maybe having difficulty getting words out, repeating themselves over again ( = losing power)
  • Maybe yapping like a small dog ( = how ridiculous is this)

Your objective here is to make your perception of them so altered that it is no longer possible to have your normal automatic response.

This will give you a breather to be able to respond differently (Step 2)

OK, now practice the above, getting ready to open the curtains.

Now OPEN THE CURTAINS and notice how your response is already different.

You only have to 'scratch the record/CD' a small amount for it to never play properly again. Your mind is the same.

Good. Let's go to Step 2 and give you something to say.

Step 2. "Taking the wind out of the sails"

This step involves giving you something to say when asking for the negative behavior to stop.

Note: It is important to practice this step in private or (preferably) with a friend before using it.

You deserve to express your thoughts and feelings about this situation as it is clearly hurting you. It is also possible you may be able to help them see the negative results of their behavior.

It goes like this:

When 'X' happens (a typical negative interaction)

It makes me think and feel 'Y' (how you think and feel at the time)

I do not like having these thoughts and feelings

What I really want to think and feel is 'B' (how you wish to think and feel)

And what would help is for you to stop behaving like 'Z' (An optional extra, here is where you can describe their typical negative behavior - or 'energy' as you say, if that describes it better for you)

Your objective is not to start an argument (For example; "You are really negative all the time"), but to make some assertive statements that both express your own thoughts and feelings and in your case, ask for the negativity to stop.

It would go something like this:

"When we are talking about where to go out for lunch, it always seems to end up in a heated negative debate about what we don't like about each other.

It makes me think that you don't like/love me any more and I feel really frustrated that we can't be more positive about our lives.

I do not like having these thoughts and feelings.

What I really want to think about is how to make our life together better and I want to feel appreciated and loved.

(Optional) ... And what would really help is for you to stop making negative comments about any suggestions I make, instead you could acknowledge my desires are important to me."

Step 3. Creating a personal linked negative-to-positive state change

It is possible that even with Steps 1 & 2, you don't initially get massive changes and indeed, you may even trigger a negative reaction from your partner. But stay with it.

What we need to do now is to help you to feel empowered, even if they take no notice of what you say initially.

This involves making an automatic link in your mind to go from a typical 'disempowered state' of yours to a stronger one.

So I'd like you now to think of a time when you have felt strong (not with your mate necessarily) and 'on top of the world'. It may not have been recent, all that matters is that it was a strong feeling.

And in the event you have no memory of anything like this, feel free to make one up from 'your ideal world'.

OK, now intensify this feeling in your mind and really identify with it. Practice feeling strong, just walking down the road, round the house, going shopping. Expect yourself to feel strong.

Good, now lets link this feeling to a specific 'switch word' - one that has unique meaning to you. It might be a word like 'Mountain', 'Diamond', 'Steel', 'Sunshine', 'Mighty-Me'. This word must be uniquely associated with the strong feeling you have created.

OK, now a brief revisit of the 'disempowered state' that you have felt around your mate. Just imagine you are feeling that 'bad state' now, if only very briefly and lightly. Now stop and 'shake it out' (like shaking out sleep when you wake up in the morning).

Good, now feel the bad state again - and this time IMMEDIATELY SAY THE SWITCH WORD TO YOURSELF.

Do this at least 4 times - start with your most disempowered state and immediately say the word to yourself.

Do it until you are positive you can change your own state just by uttering the word.

Do not tell anyone else your word! It becomes your own personal and untouchable mantra of strength.

This skill alone will keep you strong when you really need it - it is called a one-step chained anchor if you want the technical term. I have used it myself many times in a particular situation (occasional apprehension before a big presentation) until now my 'empowered state' IS the new automatic response.

I hope this helps you. It may only take a small difference to help you change everything, so please please please practice practice practice

All the best!

© 2005, Robert Scanlon, selfesteemplus

Author's Bio: 

Robert Scanlon is a corporate consultant, NLP Trainer, and the author of "Boost Your Self Esteem To New Heights", a free 21-day online Building Self Esteem and Self Confidence Course and 35-page eBook. You can sign up for it at http://www.selfesteemplus.com/.