How To Deal With A Friend Who Has Become Extremely Negative

Negative people are kind of the worst, whether they mean to be or not. You might have a few in your life, like the Debbie (or David) Downer at work who makes meetings extra miserable or an overprotective family member who always expects the worst. If spending time with these people makes you a little grumpy, know that you're not alone: A 2022 study published in the journal Emotion found that negative moods can spread between people and are even more potent than pleasant emotions.

When possible, it's often a good idea to distance yourself from the killjoys in your life to avoid turning into a Negative Nancy yourself. But what should you do when your bestie is one of those negative people? Even if their gloomy outlook is draining to deal with, you may not want to let them go just yet. Here's how to help a friend with a pessimistic attitude without sacrificing your own happiness.

Start with empathy

When a friend constantly complains and focuses on all the "bad" things in their life, it can be easy to judge their perspective. Though their glass-half-empty view might be skewed, looking down on their perspective or treating their feelings as if they're unjustified will only make them feel worse.

Even if you don't understand every criticism or grievance your bestie shares, practice empathy anyway. When you respond empathetically, you can imagine and even experience the same thoughts and emotions as your struggling friend, per Psychology Today. You trust that their feelings make sense and that there's validity to their perspective, whether it aligns with your beliefs or not.

If empathy seems a little overrated, especially when you're at your wit's end with an extremely negative friend, keep in mind that it might actually help your friend start to feel better. A 2009 study published in Family Medicine found that patients with highly empathetic doctors tend to recover from the common cold more quickly. While you might not be a doctor, your patience and support may at least help your BFF snap out of a bad mood more easily.

Listen more than you speak

If you just give the right advice or remind your friend to look on the bright side, they'll eventually stop being so negative, right? Um, probably not. When people feel misunderstood, they often respond by doubling down on their negativity and explaining further why they feel the way they do. This can lead to a vicious cycle that's likely to be frustrating for both you and your friend.

Notice if you're guilty of offering unsolicited advice or trying to comfort a down-in-the-dumps pal with phrases like, "It wasn't meant to be," or, "It's okay; don't worry so much." Then, commit to listening more than you speak. When your friend vents, hear them out and show that you're engaged using body language (such as maintaining eye contact and nodding). When they pause, respond by paraphrasing or asking follow-up questions to let them know you're interested in what they have to say.

In some cases, a friend may want a problem-solver and not an active listener. If that's your bestie, proceed with caution. If they're truly stuck in a negativity spiral, they may repeatedly (and frustratingly) ask for advice but never use any of it. A better way to direct a friend is to respond with questions like, "What advice do you think your role model would give you?" or, "How would your best self deal with this problem?"

Consider if their negativity is a phase or a pattern

A friend who's always been on the gloomy side might just be a natural pessimist (genetics can, in fact, be a reason for a negative frame of mind, according to a 2013 study published in Psychological Science). But if their negativity seems to have come out of nowhere, there could be something affecting your friend's mental health behind the scenes that they haven't disclosed — or possibly haven't even noticed themselves.

It's always important to pay attention to any changes in a loved one's mood or behavior. Pessimism, negative self-talk, disinterest, and irritability can be symptoms of depression, per Medical News Today. Stress and other mental health conditions can also sour an otherwise positive outlook on life.

Gently tell your friend that you've noticed their demeanor has changed and that you'd like to support them. They may open up to you about what's bothering them, or better yet, be willing to talk to a professional. Help them look for a therapist or other mental health resources, and check in regularly to make sure they're receiving the care they need.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Change how you hang out

If you've noticed that a friend's negativity seeps out in certain settings, consider finding new ways to hang out. For example, they might complain more after having a few drinks at the bar, so choose to only see each other when alcohol isn't involved (an afternoon coffee date may work, for instance). Or if you're tired of them dominating every conversation with their latest sob story, opt for social activities that don't require much talking.

If you suspect that mental health struggles are behind their negativity, you may also want to try some hangouts that are scientifically proven to improve mood. Spending time in nature is one option for boosting mental health, according to a 2021 research review published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, so invite your bestie to a picnic in the park or a day of soft hiking. Exercise is also known to help those with depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions, per Try taking up a new athletic hobby or joining a gym together.

Set boundaries to protect yourself

While you may want to help pull your friend out of their negativity, eventually, you might start to get swept up with them. To protect yourself and maintain your own peace of mind, set some boundaries. "For friendship to survive, you have to draw boundaries," Dr. Andrea Bonior, a licensed clinical psychologist and author of "The Friendship Fix," explained to Refinery29. If your BFF repeatedly complains about the same problems, yet nothing ever seems to change, Dr. Bonoir suggests letting them know that you don't think you're the right person to help them. This puts the focus on you and your limits rather than demeaning them or their complaints.

If their negativity continues to dominate your interactions, know that it might be time to step away from the friendship. Consider taking a break or meeting up less often if you always dread seeing them, you often feel worse after spending time together, or their pessimism is influencing how you view your own life. Another red flag: Their negativity is directed at you. Even if a friend's not in the best headspace, that doesn't give them permission to discourage you or criticize your choices. Remember, as much as you might love your bestie, it's not worth sacrificing your happiness to maintain the friendship.