“Dwelling on the negative simply contributes to its power.” ~Shirley Mac Laine I love her to death, but it’s draining to talk to her.Every time I call this friend of mine, I know what I’m in for: a half-hour rant about everything that’s difficult, miserable, or unfair.Sometimes she focuses on the people she feels have wronged her, and other times she explores the general hopelessness of life.

When someone repeatedly drains everyone around them, how do you maintain a sense of compassion without getting sucked into their doom? Even if it seems unlikely someone will wake up one day and act differently, we have to remember it possible.

And how do you act in a way that doesn’t reinforce their negativity–and maybe even helps them? When you think negative thoughts, it comes out in your body language.

Here’s what I’ve come up with: It’s hard to offer someone compassion when you assume you have them pegged. Someone prone to negativity may feel all too tempted to mirror that.

He sounds a lot more hateful than my friend, who is, sadly, just terribly depressed.

But these people have one thing in common: boundless negative energy that ends up affecting everyone around them.

So today I started thinking about how we interact with negative or difficult people.

People who seem chronically critical, belligerent, indignant, angry, or just plain rude.

I tell myself I call because I care, but sometimes I wonder if I have ulterior motives–to pump up my ego offering good advice or even to feel better about my own reality.

I’m no saint, and if there’s one thing I know well, it’s that we only do things repeatedly if we believe there’s something in it for us. I thought about this the other day when a reader wrote to me with an interesting question: “How do you offer compassion to someone who doesn’t seem to deserve it?