Families, Inc. therapist Dr. Dana Watson has been featured regularly this year on KFIN’s Breakfast Club to discuss maintaining a healthy mindset during the coronavirus pandemic. The following transcript is of her conversation with KFIN’s Brandon Baxter on October 28, 2020.
Q: Oh boy, this is a little heavier than last week when we just talked about ways to add happiness to our lives and how healthy behaviors make us happier and more mentally healthy.
Right, however, for sure, learning why it’s important to handle your haters—and how to handle them in ways that keep you insulated from that negativity—is also a key factor in staying happy and emotionally healthy. And to recap from last week, everyone can build on their current level of happiness, which we defined as satisfaction and contentment in your life.
Like I said, when someone comes to my office and is depressed or dissatisfied, they have usually become extremely self-focused, focused on their pain or dissatisfaction. One of the things we do together is to try to get them busy doing the things—creating the habits—that happy people are doing, like volunteering, exercising, being intentional about their self-care, building deep and reciprocal relationships with others, and defining their life’s purpose.
Q: So, let’s talk a little about the haters. Those folks who might look at us—or that we might look at—and feel a twinge of jealousy.
It’s hard to admit it right? But those feelings are really such normal human emotions. But it’s very important to recognize them and get them in check so they don’t get you looped into some negative cycle or impede your progress toward your goals or the happiness you have in your life.
It’s important to remember that it is incompatible to be truly satisfied with yourself if you are spending your time and energy harboring negative feelings or hating or hurting another person.
Q: Ok, I may have felt that once before when you gave Kelly a compliment and not me [laughing]. But I don’t know if I was a hater, maybe just a tiny bit envious?
Oh, bless it. We’ll have to remember to cover that in your next session [laughing].
Well, let me clarify, that even though we use them interchangeably sometimes, envy is looking at what someone else has, or is, and wanting that for yourself. Like I want his new sports car. Or I want to have friends or be pretty like her. Jealousy is when you’re worried that someone else will take what you have. It requires a third party—like if you’re worried about your spouse leaving you for the friend with the new car. And either of those can be a starting point for hate. Hating is wanting what someone else has while also trying to make them look or feel bad, to take away from them or their happiness.
Q: So, what makes someone feel envious or jealous about another person?
Well, not surprisingly, increased envy and jealousy correlates with lower self-esteem. We all carry some pain or shame from our past and a lot of times we’re not even aware of it—of that critical inner voice that’s chirping away inside our heads. That negative self-talk perpetuates destructive thoughts and feelings, drives us to compare ourselves to others, and can make us believe that if someone else wins, then our value is somehow diminished.
Q: So, what can we do about people we suspect might be envious or jealous of us?
Well first, don’t take it personally. Remember that hurt people hurt people. When someone tries to tear us down or passive aggressively roots for our failure, it exposes their negative thought processes, insecurities, and unresolved issues. Haters don’t really hate you; they hate themselves—because you’re a reflection of what they wish to be or how they wish to be.
Don’t let that negative energy get in the way of your happiness or your goals. Pay attention to and be grateful for the positive things that are happening in your life rather than the people who are trying to tear you down. If you examine yourself and don’t see that you’re doing anything wrong, really try to let negativity roll off your shoulders.
Q: So, we shouldn’t even give them attention or acknowledge what they’re doing?
It may be tempting, but don’t give into their comments or behaviors. Misery loves miserable company, and these folks want to get a rise out of you or hurt you because they’re hurt—and getting you to act in some ugly way will confirm all the reasons they think poorly of you. You don’t need to waste your time defending yourself if you are confident with who are you.
Q: You told me a story once about focusing on the road, not the wall.
Yep. I’m glad you remembered. During an interview once, Mario Andretti was asked for his number one tip for success in race car driving. He said, “Don’t look at the wall. Your car goes where your eyes go.” When you’re driving at 200mph you need to focus on the road in front of you. If you look at the wall, then you’ll end up hitting it.
Criticism and negativity from toxic people are like a wall. And if you focus on it, then you’ll run right into it. You’ll get blocked by negative emotions, anger, and self-doubt. Your mind will go where your attention is focused.
Q: Focus on the road, not the wall. And we can use that energy for our own motivation, too. We can get even better if we stay focused.
Exactly. Let haters be your motivators, as they say.
Let’s be honest: nobody wants to be treated unkindly by others who are envious… I notice when my crowd doesn’t cheer for me as loud as I would like them to or when people aren’t as responsive to me as I am to them. There are people on my social media friends list who I suspect would rather claw their own eyes out than like or comment on my posts. [laughing] So, I really have to take a minute and think about it. Are they purposefully being passive aggressive and not cheering for me? Yep. Sometimes they are. And to give that much thought to another person to purposefully withhold praise or kind words can only be a reflection of how truly miserable they are with themselves or their circumstances.
But more often, I suspect they like me, are super busy in their own lives and just didn’t give me what I needed at that moment. I try to see the bigger picture and find perspective. Does this person have a pattern of not cheering for me? Do they have a pattern of being passive aggressive? Or do they have a pattern of being really good to me and so I can see this for what it is, realize I had expectations they didn’t meet, offer them grace, hope they do the same for me in return, and then move on.
Q: That’s a good reminder for us to check our own emotions, our own needs, and our own insecurities so that if they’re friends, we don’t become the toxic and bitter ones.
Right. Because if they are truly that dissatisfied with themselves that they’re investing an amount of energy being envious or hateful toward you, you can’t allow yourself to engage in that vicious cycle. Worrying or retaliating against others will just make you bitter and angry and will steal your happiness.
Anyone who knows me has heard me say “there is no reason not to like me.” I genuinely like people. I love to see my friends succeed. I am a cheerleader and a supporter all day for my family, friends, staff, and patients. So, when I run into a person who seems like they don’t like me, I assume it’s because they have preconceived ideas about me and they have their own stuff going on that those thoughts might be triggering.
So, I don’t let them stay strangers. I don’t let distance grow between us. I intentionally close that gap and create familiarity. I know that even though they might not want to become familiar with me, I ask them to lunch so we can become more comfortable and familiar with each other, I ask them to help me on a project, I speak kindly about them to others and I look for ways to connect with them until they finally have to admit to themselves that I’m not what they thought I might be. And after all of that, if they can’t get there after they get to know me, then I know that I did the best I could and I have to let it go and move on.
Q: We have to really be aware of our own thoughts and triggers and we have to take care of ourselves. Like I ask you every time, this is where a good therapist might come in if we find ourselves unhappy or becoming an unhappy hater, right?
Yep. As we’ve discussed, there is a strong relationship between mental health, happiness, and deep healthy interpersonal connections.
It’s important for each of us to make our mental health an important priority. If you’re listening now and feeling stuck or angry or thinking you generally want to be a happier and healthier person, call Families, Inc at 933-6886 and let them get you in and get you started on your happiness journey.