Dealing With Discontented People

Most people know some individuals who are consistently dissatisfied with their lives, with others, with the “system” and spend a great deal of time lamenting about their lives. They are enveloped by chronic unhappiness, have a negative view of the world and often attempt to entice others to join their sad perspective. How can we deal with these individuals and become unscathed by their soured views?

Some people attempt to alter the negative individual’s perspective through factual information. Others distance themselves from discontented lamenters or lend a kind ear as they fend off the negative energy they encounter.

Are chronically discontented individuals innately programmed to be negative or unhappy? Are their lives substantially more troubled than their neighbors? Can they volitionally change their life-stance? What propels them to perpetuate this negative attitude despite its social consequences?

John Steinbeck wondered, “Where does discontent start? You are warm enough, but you shiver. You are fed, yet hunger gnaws you. You have been loved, but your yearning wanders in new fields. And to prod all these there’s time, the Bastard Time.”

In “Four Sources of Discontent” Julie Donley, describes the cognitive processes that fuel human discontent: “1. Unchecked expectations. 2. Comparing yourself to others. 3. Attempting to live up to the expectations of others. 4. Never being satisfied with what you have and yearning for something else.”

Donley’s recommendations for discontented individuals are: 1. Practice re-evaluating your expectations and accept that comparison to others only creates ill feelings. 2. Learn to “compare yourself only with yourself.” 3. Select achievable goals and learn to provide appreciations for yourself. 4. Change your “self-defeating thoughts that are guided by unrealistic fantasies.”

Whether discontented individuals elect to self-correct their cognitive biases or not, they are susceptible to affirmations in developing a healthier sense of self-worth. As unpleasant as their presentation may be, we need to be aware that they are unhappy individuals who suffer from low self-regard and are deeply, emotionally pained.

The social isolation that discontented people feel is profound as they yearn for acceptance and inclusion. The best way to deal with disgruntled individuals is through compassion, kindness and validation. They need empathy for their suffering and respond well to your concern about their misery. They are in a chronic state of mourning about their lot in life.

Validating their pain and discomfort, as you would with a grieving individual, would help them feel understood, valued and respected. Say, “I can understand you feel that people are bad, politicians are evil and all are only out for themselves. That must be a very painful perspective for you.” Or, “It saddens me to hear how bad your life feels to you right now. It must be very hard to deal with this.”

To help a discontented individual:

  • Regard the discontented individual as a person in mourning.
  • Empathize with his/her emotional pain and avoid challenging the negative perspective.
  • Validate the discontented person’s discomfort as you maintain your emotional and cognitive reality intact.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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