How do you stay positive when those around you wallow in self-pity?

Follow the LEADS method and everybody wins.

One sensitive way is the LEADS method.

I’ll outline it below. But first, a few thoughts about words and how we use them.

Our words have power.

If we speak something often enough, positive or negative, we will see it show up in our lives in some form or fashion. Our words have the power to manifest. They also have the power to build up and tear down.

There’s an old childhood saying that goes, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It’s a great sentiment, but far from true. Bones heal. But words, especially harsh, ripping words spoken over a person again and again, leave festering wounds that take a lifetime to heal.

Words matter.

On the flip side of this, if a highly sensitive, self-aware person becomes overly concerned with each word, she can drive herself batty. (I have anyway, ruminating over things I wish I could take back.)

We have to find middle ground.

Being mindful of our words and also allowing ourselves and other people grace when we aren’t mindful.

We also have to find a balance between being positive and being authentic.

Life is not sunshine and blue birds chirping all the time. Sure we can be positive about problems, both our’s and other people’s. But we also need to be real, if we want genuine human connection.

We’re all going through this life stuff. Most of us have experienced at one time or another, how a Polly-anna attitude can feel insincere when we’re the ones struggling.

We are looking for middle ground here, too.

Being authentic and relatable while holding a positive space and expectation for the person when they can’t hold it for themselves.

Then we have this issue of “self-pity.”

Zig Ziglar used to say, “The problem with pity parties is very few people come, and those who do don’t bring presents.”

A pity party is no fun for anyone. Especially the person who has to listen.

So where is the line? How do we determine if someone is throwing a perpetual pity party or truly going through something in which they need us to be present and available?

This is my personal take on it.

If someone brings up the same problem repetitively, one of two things is happening.

1. She is processing it. Getting her mind around the struggle and searching for a solution or way through it, which she has not yet found.

Let’s always assume (at first anyway) this is the case.

Or it could be that…

2. She is a chronic complainer.

“The glass is half empty or bone dry.”

“She never gets a break.”

“Nothing is her fault.”

Either way, the following 3 steps apply.

First, we can try to put ourselves in her shoes and imagine what it’s like to be struggling in this way. We can make eye contact and listen. Sincere listening builds empathy and even helps us see options for her.

Second, we can say, “I’m sorry you are going through this. It sounds tough.” (This let’s the person know, “I hear you. I’m with you.”

Third, after we have sincerely listened for a bit longer (we’ll know when it’s time), we can say, “How can I help?”

This third point is key because it serves two purposes.

One, it honors the person. It let’s her know we’ve heard her concerns and she’s not alone.

Two, it puts her in a position to make a decision. Does she want help solving this or not?

Most often, the person will reply, “I just needed to talk about it. Thanks.”

Fourth, this is a beautiful place to change the subject or respectfully excuse ourselves. Our question has put a polite period on that portion of the conversation. Being a positive people, we will probably want to offer a few words of encouragement before we move on.

 We’ve listened.
 We’ve shown empathy.
 We’ve offered help.
 We’ve remained positive and actually been helpful.
 Go us.

But wait.

There is another possible answer to the “How can I help” question.

The person may take us up on our offer. She may tell us what she needs. This is where you and I will decide if what she’s asking is reasonable.

It may be.

Let’s pretend your friend/family member lost her job and she’s telling you about it.

You: “How can I help?”
Her: “You can let me know if you hear of any job openings.”
You: “Yes, I can do that.”

But what she asks may not be reasonable.

If she is asking you to do something you cannot or do not want to do, that’s okay too. Decide what you can do- and offer that instead.

You: “How can I help?”
Her: “Can I borrow money?”
You: “I can’t loan you money right now, but I can help you brainstorm some options.”

You held your boundaries and were still present and helpful.

Go you.


How do you stay positive when those closest around you wallow in their own self-pity? How do you cut the conversation short without being insensitive?

My response is to follow the LEADS.

Listen for a bit.

Empathize, “I’m so sorry you’re going through that.”

Ask, “How can I help?”

Decide to shift the conversation to a new topic or physically move on to your next moment. (You’re a sensitive, positive person. You’ll know what’s best!)

Share a positive, parting thought of encouragement on the subject.

I’m amy, 40 something, and I’ve been there. I did the corporate scene for a decade then bailed and started my own gig. I’ve worked full time, part time, no time, and over time. I’m married but was near the brink of divorce once. I have a son but struggled with infertility first. I went back to graduate school to get my counseling degree as a “non traditional” student when my kid was six months old. I’ve written too many eulogies for people I love.

I’ve fought to find purpose in all the wrong places and finally figured out where to look. I’ve endured christian drama, seen religious trauma and been untangling God from that garbage ever since. I’ve made some stellar choices and my fair share of shitty ones. I wish I’d had a female a bit further down the path to shoot straight with me, someone who would be for me and with me- all of me- the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Gandhi says, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” so here I go a tryin’.s